What is Montessori?

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Montessori is a method of education that is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning, and collaborative play. In Montessori classrooms, children make creative choices in their learning, while the classroom and the teacher offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process.

In the Montessori philosophy of education, children are valued as a whole. Children are viewed as individuals capable of self-directed learning due to their natural and instinctive inquisition. The environment promotes this through multi-age groupings, uninterrupted work periods, and free choice. Academic accomplishment is important in this setting but viewed as only one part of a child among his spirit and physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development, which is supported by a child’s sensitive periods.

Click here to view the differences between Montessori Education and Traditional Routes of Education

What do Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, the Google founders, Prince William, P Diddy, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Anne Frank, George Clooney, and Jacqueline Kennedy have in common? It is not their fame, instead, it is their preschool (Click here to discover more Montessori alumni). All of these individuals went through their first few developmental years in a Montessori environment. 110 years ago in Rome Italy, Dr. Maria Montessori opened up the world’s first classroom which followed her self-developed and self-titled Montessori philosophy. It was as if the floodgates of knowledge had opened, giving teachers everywhere, for decades to come, another way to educate. Aurora Costache explains the significance of Montessori in her statement that, “Montessori is to the educator, as Christ is to the Christian”. But what is all of this fuss about?

The Montessori philosophy is hinged on the belief in self-learning and the development of the child as a whole. Dr. Montessori had concluded through her studies that learning is an instinctive natural process to which children are inclined to and are able to initiate in an environment that is prepared to support this thirst for knowledge. Her method of education allows students to choose their own focus of learning from a selection of material and curriculum that the teacher has carefully prepared based on the child’s interests and developmental needs. “In the Montessori environment the child doesn’t follow the teacher, the teacher follows the child”. Dr. Montessori observed that children are more motivated to learn when working on something of their own choosing as it captures their natural curiosity.

Dr. Montessori also developed the idea of sensitive periods, which are crucial seasons of development in which a child is biologically sensitive and inclined to obtaining a particular ability such as talking or writing. Each period lasts typically three years and if a child does not attain that skill within this period, it will be far more difficult to do so later on. Accordingly, the Montessori environment is modeled after these periods as the teacher prepares the environment to meet the developmental needs of each sensitive period as this is when the information is most naturally absorbed. At each three-year mark of a child’s life, they are fully developed for that period. However, not all children will progress at the same pace during those three years. Costache explains this as she states that “there may be a three-year-old who learns his letter sounds and progresses quickly through our reading materials but he is not able to button his coat or hold a pencil properly. On the other hand, there could be a five-year-old who is just beginning to learn his letter sounds but has known how to button up his coat since he was three. Both children will be able to successfully complete these tasks by the age of six but they developed at different times.” Montessori allows the child to advance at his or her own pace with as much or little teacher support as the child requires.

In addition, uninterrupted work periods are crucial to the Montessori model. Instead of having scheduled periods for specific subjects as traditional schools do, Montessori operates in uninterrupted work periods in which children are given time to work at their own pace. Children may work in each subject for as long as they would like without being forced to switch between activities before they are ready or required to wait for the next subject once they have completed their work.

Children belong to multi-age classes based on the sensitive periods’ time spans. This community fosters cooperative learning as older children act as leaders while reinforcing their own learning by aiding younger peers. Younger children find role models in the older students, learning through observation and they feel special to be in the company of older children. This design also mimics the adult world in which individuals work with and socialize with others of all age groups.

Most of all, the Montessori philosophy emphasizes grace and courtesy as it develops the child as a whole. Traditional routes of education work towards the development of a child’s academic knowledge and capabilities. In Montessori, although it is quite academically rigorous, academics are only a part of the overall goal. A child is expected to develop other skills that will last them their entire life and allow for them to attain success in their future, in all aspects of life. Montessori children develop conflict resolution skills that develop their ability to communicate their feelings, listen to others, and be respectful of their peers’ feelings. Respect is also emphasized in Montessori, respect of self, others, materials, and environment.

In the Montessori philosophy of education, children are valued as a whole. Children are viewed as individuals capable of self-directed learning due to their natural and instinctive inquisition. The environment promotes this through multi-age groupings, uninterrupted work periods, and free choice. Academic accomplishment is important in this setting but viewed as only one part of a child among his spirit and physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development, which is supported by a child’s sensitive periods.