What is Montessori?
Montessori is a philosophy and a method of education which emphasizes the potential of the young child. It develops this potential by utilizing specially trained teachers and special teaching materials. The Montessori materials help the child to understand what he/she learns by associating an abstract concept with a concrete sensorial experience. The Montessori method stresses that children learn and progress at their own pace.
The Montessori environments are “prepared environments” meaning that the structure and materials within the environment are developmentally appropriate, structured from within and sequentially presented on the shelf and to the child. The classrooms are beautiful, appealing and logically structured. The natural materials, the neatness, and child size objects, as well as the freedom with which the children move are often striking to the observer.
Dr. Montessori believed that one of the most important conditions for natural development was freedom of movement, so that the child could interact with his or her environment, adjust to it, and achieve harmony. The adult can help the child by allowing maximum freedom within an appropriately structured environment, filled with interesting and inviting lessons that are pleasing to the young child. Children are the caretakers of their environment and are comforted by its order and beauty. Children accomplish on task before starting another one, including the replacing of the materials on the shelf for someone else to use. The children are free to find work that they have been presented, and they may work with those materials for as long as they wish. Children are free to interact with each other, work together or be by themselves. By working in a free environment, children learn self-discipline, concentration, individuality, obedience, and how to build up positive social interactions. Visitors are impressed with the love with which the children choose their work and enjoy their life in the classroom.
Once the environment exists, the teacher will become the link between it and the children. Dr. Montessori stated the teacher must be a dynamic link with a great variety of qualities, such as knowledge, patience, observation, discrimination, tact, experience, and above all charity. The main function of the teacher is to assist the child to reach perfection through his/her own efforts. In the prepared environment, the child can do things for himself/herself – live his/her own life- without the immediate help of adults. Therefore, in a Montessori environment the children are to be increasingly active, while the teacher is increasingly passive.
Within the prepared environment, the teacher utilizes “theFundamental Lesson” to introduce the material and activities to a child. The purpose of this lesson is to present the child with a key to the materials and explore their possibilities. She will observe his/her reactions and will experiment with different approaches to him/her.
The fundamental lesson is presented in an orderly, precise manner, with simple objective and brief instructions in order to keep the child’s interest in what the teacher is offering. The teacher also uses a “Three Period Lesson” to introduce a lesson, to assist the child in learning the names of things (new vocabulary), and numbers. It is a 3 step procedure and words are introduced after the child has a sensorial experience with the material.
When young children explore through their environment, it resembles the actions of true mathematicians. The children search for patterns and seek to understand every kind of pattern. Dr. Montessori observed that the child’s mind seeks to make sense of things and uses order to accomplish it. This she called “the Mathematical Mind”.
The Montessori curriculum and the materials are roughly divided into four categories: the Practical Life (the daily-living exercises involving the physical care of person and environment), Sensorial or academics (Mathematics and Language), the Cultural (Botany, Zoology, History, Geography, and Science) and the Creative (Art, Music, Literature and Drama). There are six basic components to the Montessori classroom environment. They deal with the concepts of freedom, structure and order, reality and nature, beauty and atmosphere, the Montessori materials, and the development of community of life.
Montessori classrooms are almost always models of carefully designed and managed. While the children work independently, their social skills and compassion are normally well developed and discipline is rarely a problem. At the center, a child’s experience in a Montessori environment is a drive towards independence. This includes independence in self-care, thought, and action. A Montessori environment educates and helps to develop the whole child by creating an environment where a child has freedom within limits, an ability to practice both social and academic skills, and the room to nurture his or her emotional and spiritual needs. Dr. Montessori believed that each child can develop into his or her best self; an independent person who is able to act appropriately as a global citizen and contribute to help create a better world and community for all of us.