What is Montessori?
Many of us recognize the word Montessori and associate it with a unique style of teaching and learning. We may also know something of its founder, Dr. Maria Montessori, and the specially designed materials she created for use in her classrooms, but beyond this, what exactly is the Montessori curriculum and how does it differ from other educational methods?
Following the Child
Dr. Montessori was an Italian physician who lived from 1870-1952. Through the scientific observation of children, she concluded that each child innately possesses the knowledge of what she or he needs to do in order to develop fully. Her goal was to develop a prepared educational environment in which children could choose their own work based on a readiness to absorb and master the academic concepts that they were driven to learn.
Learning from Each Other
Classrooms in a Montessori school look, feel, and sound different from their counterparts in other schools. Students work together in classes that span a three-year age group, typically ages 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and 13-14 years. This arrangement allows each child to learn at his or her own pace regardless of chronological age, and allows students to learn from each other. The older children guide the younger children through the same processes they learned in years past, and children share special skills and knowledge with each other. In a Montessori classroom, students are free to choose their own work within limits and remain with that work as long as their interest is engaged. As a result, the atmosphere in a Montessori classroom is calm, non-competitive, and industrious. Such an environment fosters self-confidence and provides a base from which cooperation, understanding, tolerance, and responsibility is learned.
The Montessori Materials
The Montessori classroom is characterized by quiet excitement, creativity, and the use of specially designed materials not found in traditional classrooms. Attractive and intriguing, these materials are designed to show, rather than tell, the child how to accomplish a certain task. Pouring colored water or rice from a miniature pitcher develops coordination, concentration, and an understanding of volume and spatial relationships. Long chains of shimmering beads present an opportunity for skip counting, the precursor for multiplication. Bells are struck to discern tones so that children become sensitized to the subtle sounds of letters such as the difference between “b”, “p” and “d”. Sandpaper letters are traced to learn letter sounds and shapes in preparation for writing and reading, while the study of zoological materials allows young children to classify by fish, amphibian, reptile, bird and mammal. These and other Montessori-designed materials help students grasp solid academic concepts, thus building a solid foundation for more complex academic learning in the elementary grades.
The Teacher as a Mentor
The Montessori teacher, or “director/directress”, is a skilled educator who has completed one or more years of intensive Montessori training beyond completion of a four-year college degree. All directors/directresses at MMS are Montessori certified. Consistent with the Montessori approach, the directors/directresses serve as mentors to the children, providing the guidance and challenge of meaningful work. In other educational models, teachers provide instruction to students as passive receivers. The primary goal of the Montessori director/directress is to free the student from dependence on direction. This builds self-esteem and gives the student a tremendous skill base for problem-solving, independent thinking, concentration on and completion of tasks, and successful participation in leadership activities later in life. The director/directress respects the child’s need for self-accomplishment and uses the tools of observation, patience, and judgment to know just when help is needed and when to allow a child to work something through on their own. Montessori students have the additional benefit of remaining with the same teacher for three years.
Freedom & Positive Guidance
Discipline (positive guidance) and freedom go hand in hand in the Montessori classroom, and while the rules may be few, they are vitally important. As children pursue their own work, they are likewise taught to respect the work of others. Patience is learned while waiting for a turn at a given lesson or group activity, which helps the child develop an “inner discipline” rather than one imposed externally. The behavior of the Montessori director/directress and the returning students set a tone in the classroom for new students. The lessons of “grace and courtesy” begin on each child’s first day and a sense of community is soon established as all children begin to make the classroom their own.
A common goal of all MMS programs is to provide students with as many positive school relationships as possible with both peers and adults. Toward this end, teachers and staff assist children in developing appropriate social skills, maximizing their use of self-control and respecting the rights of others. While preventative planning of classroom activities can eliminate many discipline problems, positive guidance techniques are applied when necessary. To ensure success, such techniques are applied individually to the child. What differs is the method used to resolve the situation, and this is guided by the staff’s extensive knowledge of each child’s personality.
Communication & Curriculum
The Montessori school day is characterized by longer “blocks of time” which give students an opportunity to immerse themselves deeply in their work without interruption. The curriculum encompasses a full range of subjects including reading, writing, mathematics, geometry, science, geography, history, computers, physical education, health, music, and the fine and performing arts. As a special feature, children are introduced to Spanish at the age of three. Field trips, visiting artists, and off-site extension programs take learning beyond the classroom and expose students to the rich variety of resources available in the local community.
School-to-home communication is a top priority at MMS and the staff takes great pride in maintaining a high degree of accessibility with parents and students alike. In lieu of traditional grades, progress is shared via informal discussions, written reports, and parent/teacher conferences held twice yearly. Parents are encouraged to contact teachers whenever the need arises, and concerns are addressed promptly. The ERB Test is administered each year in the third, sixth, and seventh grades.
To Read More…
To read more about Maria Montessori and the Montessori Method we suggest: Montessori Today, by R.C. Orem – Putnam, NY, 1977, Montessori: A Modern Approach, by Paula Polk Lillard – Schocken Books, NY, 1972, and The Advanced Montessori Method, Volume I, Spontaneous Activity in Education, by Maria Montessori.