Montessori is an educational philosophy developed by Dr. Maria Montessori. It was her belief that all children have a natural desire to learn. Their abilities to absorb information at certain sensitive periods of learning are enhanced when a child is exposed to a variety of Montessori learning materials. The opportunity for each child to grow and develop as individuals is the main focus of a Montessori program.
"Our aim is not merely to make children understand, and still less to force them to memorize, but so to touch their imaginations as to enthuse them to their innermost core."
- Dr. Maria Montessori
Dr. Maria Montessori, the creator of what is called "The Montessori Method of education", based this new education on her scientific observations of young children's behaviour. As the first woman physician to graduate from the University of Rome, Maria Montessori became involved with education as a doctor treating children labelled as mentally challenged. Then in 1907 she was invited to open a care centre for the children of desperately poor families in the San Lorenzo slums of Rome.
She called it a "Children's House" and based the program on her observations that young children learn best in a nurturing environment, filled with developmentally appropriate materials that provide experiences contributing to the growth of self-motivated, independent learners.
Montessori's dynamic theories included such revolutionary premises as:
- Children are to be respected as different from adults and as individuals who are different from one another.
- Children create themselves through purposeful activity.
- The most important years for learning are from birth to age six.
- Children possess unusual sensitivity and mental powers for absorbing and learning from their environment, which includes people as well as materials.
The primary goal of a Montessori program is to help each child reach full potential in all areas of life. Activities promote the development of social skills, emotional growth, and physical coordination as well as cognitive preparation. The holistic curriculum, under the direction of a specially prepared teacher, allows the child to experience the joy of learning, time to enjoy the process and ensure the development of self-esteem, and provide the experiences from which children create their knowledge.
In order for self-directed learning to take place, the whole learning environment - room, materials, and social climate - must be supportive of the learner. The teacher provides necessary resources, including opportunities for children to function in a safe and positive climate. The teacher thus gains the children's trust, which enables them to try new things and build self-confidence.
Dr. Montessori's observations of the kinds of things which children enjoy and go back to repeatedly led her to design a number of multisensory, sequential, and self-correcting materials which facilitate the learning skills and lead to learning of abstract ideas by the construction of knowledge.
Originally called a "Directress", the Montessori teacher functions as designer of the environment, resource person, role model, demonstrator, record keeper, and meticulous observer of each child's behaviour and growth. The teacher acts as a facilitator of learning.
Each Montessori class, from toddlers through elementary, operates on the principle of freedom within limits. Every program has its set of ground rules which differ from age to age, but is always based on core Montessori beliefs - respect for each other and for the environment.
Children are free to work at their own pace with materials they have chosen, either alone or with others. The teacher relies on his or her observations of the children to determine which new activities and materials may be introduced to an individual child or to a small or large group. The aim is to encourage active, self-directed learning and to strike a balance of individual mastery with small group collaboration within the whole group community.
The multi-age grouping in each class provides a family-like grouping where learning can take place naturally. More experienced children share what they have learned while reinforcing their own learning. Because this peer group learning is intrinsic to Montessori, there is often more conversation - language experiences - in the Montessori classroom than in conventional early education settings.
Creativity flourishes in an atmosphere of acceptance and trust. Montessorians recognize that children, from toddlers to teenagers, learn and express themselves in a very individual way.
Music, art, storytelling, movement, and drama are part of every Montessori program. The Montessori environment encourages creative development. An emphasis on the sensory aspect of experience, the opportunity for both verbal and nonverbal modes of learning and many beautful materials which stimulate interest and involvement are displayed in the classroom to invite exploration from the child.
Since Montessori is a word in the public domain, it is possible for any individual or institution to claim to be Montessori. An authentic Montessori classroom must have the following basic characteristics at all levels:
- Teachers educated in the Montessori philosophy and the methodology for the age level they are teaching, who have the ability and dedication to put the key concepts into practice.
- A partnership established with the family. The family is considered an integral part of the individual's total development.
- A multi-aged, multi-graded heterogeneous grouping of students.
- A diverse set of Montessori materials, activities, and experiences which are designed to foster physical, intellectual, creative, social, and personal independence.
- A schedule which allows large blocks of time to problem-solve, to see connections in knowledge and to create new ideas.
- A classroom atmosphere which encourages social interaction for cooperative learning, peer teaching, and emotional development.
Montessori children are usually adaptive. They have learned to work independently and in groups. Since they've been encouraged to make decisions from an early age, these children are problem-solvers who can make choices and manage their time well.
They have also been encouraged to exchange ideas and to discuss their work freely with others, and good communication skills ease the way in new settings.
Research has shown that the best predictor of future success is a sense of self-esteem. Montessori programs, based on self-directed, non-competitive activities, help children develop good self-images and the confidence to face challenges and change with optimism.