The Montessori Approach
What is Montessori Education?
It is a child-focused approach. The Montessori Method fosters rigorous, self-motivated growth for children and adolescents in all areas of their development—cognitive, emotional, social, and physical. Montessori education reframes the adult/child relationship to place the child at the centre of their learning.
Dr. Maria Montessori was an Italian physician, educator, and innovator, acclaimed for her educational method that builds on how children learn naturally. She was appointed co-director of a new training institute for special education teachers. Maria approached the task scientifically, carefully observing and experimenting to learn which teaching methods worked best. Dr. Montessori discovered children’s almost effortless ability to learn; she found that children can teach themselves! Many children made unexpected gains, and the program was proclaimed a success. On January 6, 1907, Dr. Montessori opened the first Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, in Rome, Italy.
Montessori classrooms are interactive environments in which hands-on exploration is not only encouraged, it is necessary. Learning becomes an activity that engages the whole self by using the mind, the body, and the senses. Any parent will agree that children do; Montessori environments follow children’s natural inclination towards activity by offering an appropriate variety of objects and activities for meaningful engagement. Their movement is unrestricted by the teacher unless it endangers themselves, other people, or their surroundings.
The Role of the Montessori Teacher
The Montessori teacher is a guide or facilitator whose task is to support the students in self-development. We are observers, unobtrusively yet carefully monitoring each child’s development, recognizing and interpreting each child’s needs. The Montessori teacher links the child and the prepared environment, introducing the child to each piece of equipment when ready in a precise, clear and enticing way. Specialized training results in a deep knowledge of child development, the purposes and use of each activity, and an understanding of how to foster and maintain social harmony in the classroom.
The Montessori Prepared Environment
There is no focal centre in the classroom; this reflects that the teacher is not the focus of the children’s attention but that they are all one community together. Children move freely throughout the environment, choosing activities that interest them or working with the teacher individually or in small groups.
A Montessori environment should be purposefully designed for the child’s independence. Having lots of learning materials within a child’s reach will encourage freedom of choice while maintaining structure and order. The learning materials in the prepared environment are specially designed and displayed on low, easily accessible shelves. In addition to child-height shelves, Montessori classrooms have child-sized furniture, fixtures, tools, and utensils. By keeping the environment child-sized and accessible, the Montessori classroom minimizes the child’s need for adult assistance and maximizes self-regulated activity. True Montessori materials are presented to the child in the Four Avenues of Learning: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language and Mathematics. (Some centres also include Cultural Studies).
Children’s needs change as they move through stages of development. At each level of Montessori education, this difference is honoured through the preparation of the classroom environment. The environment is prepared in every way for optimal development: physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally. By aligning the activities in the background with what each child needs at any moment, Montessori-prepared environments liberate children’s energy for growth and learning.