Montessori is an approach to the education of children. It is a way of looking at, and understanding, children. It is a view of how children develop and learn which has been translated into a systematic method of education based upon careful scientific study.
The Montessori educational system is unique in that it has successfully undergone continued development for over seventy years and has been used effectively with mentally retarded, physically handicapped, normal, and gifted children in different countries around the world. Perhaps the most significant reason for its success is that it is a comprehensive method of education resulting from an integration of research on development, learning, curriculum, and teaching.
A Montessori programme is different from other educational programmes in a number of ways.
1) It teaches to individuals instead of to groups.
2) Children learn through practicing tasks rather than through listening and having to remember. In a Montessori classroom the organization of the room allows children easy access to a variety of learning experiences.
3) The materials in a Montessori classroom are carefully designed and thoroughly researched to fit the developmental needs and characteristics of children.
4) Montessori teachers are trained to teach respect and positive values through their modeling as well as through the way they teach.
Experience and research both indicate that children attending Montessori schools tend to be competent, self-disciplined, socially well adjusted, and happy.
1) Competence: Children in Montessori schools are often several years above grade level in their basic skills. Also, since the Montessori education is comprehensive, children are often exceptionally knowledgeable in a number of other areas as well.
2) Self-discipline: Montessori schools are well known for children’s development of self- discipline. Children choose to work long and hard. They treat materials and others with respect. They display patience and resistance to temptation and the ability to attend for long periods.
3) Social Adjustment: Montessori school children usually strike a visitor as friendly empathetic, and co-operative. The classroom is a cheerful social community where children happily help each other. It is not uncommon to see a child offer to help another child. Also, learning social grace and courtesy is a part of the Montessori curriculum.
4) Happiness: Most parents of children in a Montessori school comment on how much their children love school.
Dr. Maria Montessori, internationally renowned child educator, was originally a medical doctor who brought the scientific methods of observation, experimentation, and research to the study of children, their development and education.
As a doctor, Montessori came to believe that many of the problems of the children she was working with were educational rather that medical. In examining education she felt that children were not achieving their potential because education was not based upon science.
Her first step, then, was to attempt to abandon preconceived ideas about education and to begin to study children, their development and the process of learning through scientific methods of observation and experimentation. In doing so, she made what she considered to be a number of startling discoveries.
Through her research, she discovered that children possessed different and higher qualities than those we usually attribute to them. Among these qualities are:
1) Amazing Mental Concentration. Previously it was believed that children had short attention spans. Dr. Montessori was amazed to observe the length of time that very young children would choose to attend to tasks which interested them.
2) Love of Repetition. On their own, children would choose to practice things they were trying to master over and over again. For example, once a child decides to learn how to tie shoes, the child may tie and untie shoes many times, continuing the repetition until the task is mastered.
3) Love of Order. Whereas we normally think of children as messy, Dr. Montessori found that children have a natural inclination for organisation and orderliness. This natural inclination can be helped and developed if provision is made to foster it.
4) Freedom of Choice. Children like to choose things they do. If materials are set out for children so that they have easy access to them, children will choose, take and replace them without the need of assistance from an adult.
5) Children Prefer Work to Play. One of the greatest surprises for Dr. Montessori was the discovery that children preferred work to play. Sometimes adults tend to think children only want to play and not to work. However, Dr. Montessori found that play was a substitute for what the children really wanted to do, but couldn’t. For example, children like to play “house”. They may pretend to cook, to bake pies, to clean house, etc. However, if given a choice, the children prefer to be in the real kitchen with their mother (or father) learning how to prepare “real” food.
6) No Need for Rewards and Punishment. Montessori discovered that children are intrinsically motivated to work. No one wants to be a problem. So, they do not need external rewards and punishments. What they do need is help. The adult can help by showing the child how to do what he or she is trying to accomplish. Accomplishment, competence, and being a contributing member of a society are rewarding in themselves. And, it is reward enough.
7) The Children Refuse Rewards. Children often show an indifference to the allure of rewards when placed in conflict with the interests of the mind.
8) Lovers of Silence. Whereas it is easy to think of children as noisy, Montessori discovered that children enjoy finding out how quiet they can be. The children like to listen to silence and to soft sounds. It is like a game to see if they can move a chair without making a sound.
9) Sense of Personal Dignity. Children have a deep sense of personal dignity just as adults do. They want to be capable and held in high regard. They want to be able to do things for themselves. They can get embarrassed and can feel ashamed. A child would rather tie his own shoes than have them tied for him.
10) Desire to Read and Write. In the beginning, Dr. Montessori didn’t believe that young children of four and five years of age should be involved in reading and writing. However, the children showed such interest that she provided some beginning materials. She was astonished by how the children seemed to “burst spontaneously” into writing and then reading if provided with the right materials.
Children love a Montessori pre-school. They like the opportunity to be with other children of their own age and they like having so many interesting things to do. The room is attractive, with many carefully designed materials and activities for the children to choose from.
The children are free to engage themselves in activities that interest them. They can work by themselves, or with a friend, or a group of friends. They can spend as much time as needed in any activity. They have opportunities to do things they see their parents do at home.
They can prepare food such as grating carrots, peeling potatoes, cutting bananas, cracking nuts, or squeezing oranges. They can do carpentry such as hammering, nailing, and sawing. They can learn to tie shoes, use a zip, use poppers and buttons. They can listen to music, sing, dance, and learn to play an instrument.
They can paint, draw, work with clay, learn to sew and make masks or puppets. They can learn to count or make words. They can look at books about all the wondrous things in the world around them. They can look at a globe and look at pictures taken of different parts of the world. And, they can run, climb, play games, and have fun with their friends. They can sit on a knee and hug a teacher.
A Montessori classroom is an exciting place to be. There are many interesting and beautiful resources for children to work with. There are many interesting books on a wide assortment of topics. Books on insects, plants, animals, different countries, history, etc. However, textbooks and workbooks are not used.
Instead, children work with many different concrete materials which help them to learn through an active process. In using these materials the children may make their own books, draw their own maps or time lines, and develop their own projects. As a result, the classroom is a busy, happy place to be.
Since the classroom is well organised, with the intention of making all the materials visible and accessible for the children, the children can find what they want and work without having to wait for the teacher. Some children may be reading while others are doing maths.
Some people may be studying about ants while others are listening to classical music on headphones. The children are all engaged in purposeful activity which leads and develops the intelligence. The materials set out in the room have been carefully designed with an educational purpose in mind.
Because of this, the children are free to move from activity to activity. They don’t need to wait for assignments from the teacher. Meanwhile, the teacher is free to help individuals or small groups. The teacher is not tied to a routine of having to present a series of large group lesson to the whole class.
The classroom is activity-centred rather than teacher-centred. The teacher’ s job is to prepare the classroom, set out the materials, and then observe the children and determine how to help. The teacher does not need to test the children because it is easy to see how the children are doing by observing their activities.
In this way the teacher can have immediate, up-to-date information about any child without time being taken away from learning and without threat of failure being imposed upon the child. Without the threat of failure, and with so many intriguing things to do, discipline problems disappear and a friendly, co- operative social community forms.
Co-operation rather than competition becomes the tone of the room and adversary relationships fade away, becoming friendships.
In a Montessori programme, children have the opportunity to learn the same subjects they would learn in any other programme. At the pre-school level children develop social, emotional, motor and perceptual skills, and begin to learn how-to-read and do maths.
They become more involved with history, geography, and science. They learn some handwork as well as practical life skills. In primary school, the curriculum is comprehensive. Parents are usually impressed with both the depth and breadth of the curriculum. Children master the basics early and can therefore spend more time developing skills and learning other subject areas.
Most visitors to a Montessori programme are amazed at how peaceful, pleasant and well behaved the children are. Montessori programmes are noted for the self-discipline of their children. The particularly interesting thing about this is that the method does not involve techniques of coercion or manipulation.
The children do not think of their teachers as being strict or mean. Techniques of force or power are not used. Basically, what happens is that the children find their needs are being met. They like the teacher and the classroom. They sense the teacher cares about them and is a source of help.
The teacher realises that children want to be liked: they want to be accepted members of the group: no one wants to be a problem. Therefore, a child having difficulty needs help. The child simply needs to be shown in a positive way how to meet his needs. Though this process, non-acceptable behaviour lessens and finally disappears. This makes the classroom a very pleasant place for both the children and the teacher. The keys to this process are:
1) An environment prepared to meet the children’s needs.
2) A teacher trained in positive, constructive methods of helping children.
The educational advantages a child receives in life are very important. The child’s personality, outlook, and intelligence are in the process of being formed. For the child to actualise fully his or her potential, it is critical that the child be provided the resources and assistance necessary for learning and development.
This help can only be provided if based upon an adequate understanding of the child and the processes of growth and development. This information, and the necessary tools for helping development, is given to teachers in Montessori teacher training programs.
The Montessori method of education is based upon careful research which is passed on to teachers through training. It is a dynamic system of education in which each generation of teachers has the opportunity to pass on the knowledge gained through training and experience to future generations.
It is a system of education where the best is kept and improvements are added and passed on. It has been used in different cultures and countries around the world. But beyond this, the Montessori method of education is more than just a set of nicely designed materials, and it is more than a few useful techniques. It is a comprehensive approach to working with children based upon research and careful training.