The Montessori Method was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori in the early 1900's. It is a method of education emphasizing individualized, self-directed study. In a Montessori classroom, children have a great deal of freedom to choose which activities they wish to pursue at what time, and each child works at his or her own pace. The Montessori method includes specially devised instructional materials that allow students to monitor and correct their own errors. The cornerstone of the method is the enjoyment and satisfaction produced when children's natural love of learning is respected and allowed to flourish in a nurturing environment specifically prepared to meet their developmental needs.
A Brief Glossary of Montessori Terms:
The Absorbent Mind
Dr. Montessori felt that the first six years of life are the years when the mind is the most absorbent, and that during the first three years in particular the child moves from what is referred to as the unconscious absorbent mind (when the child appears to be paying attention to everything, moving from one thing to the next), to the conscious absorbent mind (when the child begins to show preferences, and focus on particular objects and tasks). It is for this reason that the Montessori caregiver is very careful to model actions and behaviors that are desirable, and that the environment is purposefully prepared, orderly, not overly stimulating in terms of color, sound, or other stimuli. The Montessori environment is designed to provide a calm, neutral background that supports learning and the emergence of the conscious absorbent mind, which will later define the child as an individual with specific preferences and learning styles.
Dr. Montessori also brought forward the idea that there are several “sensitive periods” in a child’s life when the child is ready to learn. This is why a Montessori toddler room is completely child centered, and the teachers act only as guides for the direction the children prefer to take. However, it is the teacher’s responsibility to be aware of each child’s sensitive periods and to have short, prepared lessons available as the child demonstrates the readiness to learn. As the child shows preferences for certain materials that are presented to him/her, the child is more likely to access these activities and will learn the skills associated with the task through many repetitions. It should be noted however, that the opportunities for learning are not restricted to formal, prepared lessons and works within the classroom. All activities are viewed as an opportunity for learning – including eating and food preparation, or going for a walk and encountering an interesting insect or vehicle. Learning is viewed as a total life experience.
The Prepared Environment
The Montessori environment is designed to give the children space and time where they can concentrate and learn. A calm, beautiful, and orderly environment where all items are chosen to appeal to the child’s interests and senses enhances confidence and learning. In a prepared environment, the teacher is also very aware to model behaviors that the children will emulate, such as treating others with respect, speaking in a low and calm voice, and respecting materials and one’s surroundings.
Control of Error
In a Montessori environment, mistakes are regarded as a part of learning, and children are given the opportunity to self correct rather than be corrected by an adult. This helps children learn to have confidence in their own decisions and abilities. Lightweight furniture that can be easily moved by the children can also be easily knocked over, thereby giving the children the opportunity to practice control of movement. Materials that need to be handled with delicacy provide opportunities for the children to learn to respect their environment and treat it with care.
Practical Life Skills
In a Montessori environment, the children are given many opportunities to participate in the care and maintenance of the environment. For example, an observer in our classroom will note that children will wipe spills, wash tables, and sweep up messes made by projects or crumbs. They are encouraged to pour for themselves and prepare their food and eating areas on their own. These skills not only enhance confidence and a child’s feeling of control over his or her own environment, but they also develop crucial fine motor skills that will lay the foundation for later writing and the ability to focus visually and mentally.
Freedom In Education
Freedom in the Montessori classroom means freedom to do what is right. During the course of the school year, the children and teacher work together to build a miniature but very real community. The children learn to honor a few carefully chosen, well-understood, and strictly enforced, ground rules. Beyond that, they are free to find work to do among many interesting choices. The fruits of this freedom are individuality, self-discipline, concentration, obedience, and positive social interactions.
Maria Montessori was born on August 31, 1870, in Italy. She became the first female physician in her country. Her clinical observations led her to analyze how children learn from what they find in their immediate environment.
Montessori founded the first Casa dei Bambini, or “Children’s House,” in Rome in 1907. In the “Children’s House,” Montessori developed what ultimately became known as the Montessori Method of education. The Montessori Method was based upon Dr. Montessori’s scientific observations of the children’s almost effortless ability to absorb knowledge from their surroundings and tireless interest in manipulating materials. Every piece of equipment, every exercise, every method Montessori developed was based on what she observed children do “naturally” on their own, unassisted by adults. Montessori dedicated her life to furthering the self-creating process of the child through educational reform and teaching techniques based upon her discoveries.
Maria Montessori died in Holland in 1952, but her work continues. Today there are close to five thousand private and approximately two hundred public Montessori schools in the United States. Montessori schools exist in Canada, Russia, Japan, Israel, Australia, India, and many other countries.