MARIA MONTESSORI: THE WOMAN BEHIND THE NAME
Born in 1870, Maria Montessori was an Italian medical doctor whose interest in teaching the mentally retarded led her to develop a highly successful sensory-based method to help them learn. She later applied her discoveries to poor children from the slums of Rome. Soon people from all over the word came to her “Children’s House” (Casa de Bambini) to learn from her. She devised specialized materials, a teaching method, and a philosophy of education based on her careful observation of the child.
THE MONTESSORI PHILOSOPHY
Underlying Maria’s method was a philosophy based on the dignity and spiritual worth of the child. The basis of the Montessori philosophy of education is that all children carry within them the person they will become. In order to develop their unique potential, they must have freedom—freedom to explore, freedom to be creative, freedom to choose. Freedom is achieved through order and self-discipline.
Montessori offers “freedom within structure.”
RESPECT FOR THE CHILD
The Montessori philosophy is based on a deep respect for the child, particularly the individuality of each child. We respect the child and we nurture the adult he is to become.
THE ABSORBENT MIND
Every child has an inner need to grow physically, emotionally and mentally (cognitively). Maria Montessori used the term “a child’s absorbent mind” to label this inner motivation to learn. Children propel themselves towards greater learning, no matter what their differences.
THE WHOLE CHILD
Maria Montessori was concerned with the development of the whole child — body, mind and spirit. Everything in the Montessori classroom is structured to support growth in every area for a child.
THE THREE ELEMENTS: TEACHER, CHILD, AND PREPARED ENVIRONMENT
The Montessori approach to education involves a three-way interaction between the child, the prepared environment, and the teacher. Through this interaction, the natural process of learning occurs for a young child. Maria Montessori believed that “education is…not acquired by listening to words, but (from) experiences in which the child acts on the environment.”
MONTESSORI IS SENSORY-BASED
Maria Montessori observed that children learn by doing. She designed her materials so that children in the classroom may manipulate (“act upon”) them and learn through self-discovery. Children touch, see, taste, hear, and feel the materials. Dr. Montessori acutely observed what recent brain research has shown us: the development of a child’s senses precedes the development of higher thinking capacities.
FOLLOWING THE LEAD OF THE CHILD
Maria Montessori found that every child has his own unique pace of development. The Montessori approach is based on trusting this natural process and “following the child’s lead,” rather than directing it.
During a “sensitive period,” a child is drawn to a particular activity and a unique window of opportunity is open to him to easily absorb that information. A child may be drawn to the same activity (Montessori material) over and over again because he is working on grasping the knowledge. It is important that he not be hurried or interrupted during this work.
THE PREPARED ENVIRONMENT
In order to help children with the monumental task of mastering all the sights and sounds that bombard them, Maria Montessori developed what she called “the prepared environment.” The prepared environment maintains an order, or framework, through which children can classify their sensory input, exploring at their own speed. Shelves are open, which encourages children to freely choose and explore.
Montessori materials are designed to meet the needs of young children’s sensitive periods. They are beautifully made in wood and neutral colors. Children focus on how they do what they do. In a Montessori classroom, they help one another to achieve mutual success, rather than competing among themselves. Without competition, they are freer to experience the natural joy of learning.
THE HAND IS TEACHER OF THE CHILD
The prepared environment is structured to allow children to use many different materials independently, although the teachers will demonstrate them. Maria Montessori believed that children’s hands are their chief teachers, since they learn by doing. They learn good working skills by focusing on the task in the hand. They also learn by self-discovery. For this reason, many Montessori materials are self-correcting.
“JOBS” AND “WORK”
Maria Montessori knew the intrinsic value of “work.” It is the inner pleasure of a job well done that brings us a sense of accomplishment. A child will need this to sustain him in his work for his entire life.
Maria Montessori understood that a child’s play is his work, and for this reason she called her Montessori materials “jobs.” She believed that we should not make children dependent on adult praise for what they do because it robs them of their own deeper feeling of satisfaction. A child’s delight in the process of discovery is more important than the outcome.
THE TEACHER IS THE CATALYST
In a Montessori classroom, the teacher is the catalyst that activates the relationship between the child and the “prepared environment.” She shows the child, she does not tell him. She respects him by not getting in the way of his self-discovery. A Montessori teacher does not push a child, but rather follows the child’s lead. She will “invite” a child to learn by introducing new materials appropriate to his or her stage.
FREEDOM WITHIN LIMITS
The Montessori classroom is a steppingstone to the larger world. Children must eventually learn to live within a society that has rules and laws. The Montessori classroom has clear expectations for behavior that children learn to follow. The Montessori philosophy promotes success by making children aware of the rules when they first enter the classroom, rather than informing them of the rules when they have broken them.
RESPECT FOR SELF AND OTHERS
Many people comment on the remarkably respectful atmosphere of the Montessori classroom. Teachers model respect of children and children model respect for each other.
Learning about each other is one of the most important aspects of a Montessori environment. Children develop a true sense of community through their daily interactions. They learn to respect each other’s needs and to value each other’s work. They learn to solve problems together peaceably. They learn tolerance and appreciation of differences. They share a care and concern for others and for their environment.
LEARNING THE MONTESSORI WAY
Children have many opportunities for free choice during their day, but they must follow the structure of the classroom. They are shown how to work at the table or how to get a rug and work on the floor. They are shown the proper way to carry a pencil and scissors and how to take materials from the shelf and return them to the same place. They learn not to touch another person’s job. Children learn that they may move from one room to another but must first put away their job. They may work alone or in groups, and they may choose any job they want, but they may not choose not to work at all.
THE FOUR AREAS IN MONTESSORI
The basic Montessori equipment is divided into four main areas: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language and Mathematics. Each area occupies a different section of the room. (For more information, click below)
- Care of the Person
- Care of the Environment
- Exercises of Grace & Courtesy
Practical Life is one of the first areas a young child is drawn to explore. These activities parallel the activities of daily living. They are some of the most important jobs in the classroom because they meet the child’s need for movement, balance and coordination.
Some exercises focus on care of the self, such as blowing your nose. Other exercises teach pract and “thank you” and using table manners). Practical Life activities help children cope with day-to-day situations, become self-reliant, and develop a positive self-image.
The Sensorial Area is also one of the first areas young children seek out. Sensorial materials meet the child’s need for sensory stimulation and judgment. Exercises in this area train or refine the senses. They help the child judge size, shape, taste, sound, and smell. Children learn to discriminate.
We know that sensory development must come before higher intellectual capacities. Sensory activities are an therefore an essential part of the “prepared environment” because they lay the groundwork for further growth in language and math.
The child begins his language work by first analyzing sounds and paying attention to the sequence of sounds in the names of objects familiar to him. Much conversation and vocabulary-building precedes work with written letters in the Montessori classroom.
Written letters are introduced in the form of the Sandpaper Letters so that a child hears the name and feels the shape of any sound he learns. From here, a child can move on to word-building. Children use the Metal Insets to develop the manipulative skills for writing. Maria Montessori had a strong sense of children “writing to read.” Geography and science are also extensions of the Language area and activities are presented for children to learn about their physical and cultural world.
Many people believe Maria Montessori was most inspired in the Math area. She developed an array of wonderful materials to teach math concepts in a simple, concrete way. In the Montessori classroom, children first acquire a visual and tactile concept of numbers. They begin with activities that teach sequence, recognition, and quantity of numbers 1 to 10.
Once children understand quantity (how many objects make “nine”, they are then introduced to the symbol “9” (using Sandpaper Numbers). There are many counting jobs in the Montessori classroom, which give children the opportunity to experience reinforcement and learn from their mistakes. With practice, they go on to learn the decimal system, teens, hundreds, and thousands. They learn about the composition of numbers and the operation of numbers, such as addition and subtraction. Later, Montessori teaches complex concepts like multiplication and division in a sensory way.
AFTER PRESCHOOL, THEN WHAT?
When Children Go On To School
Many parents wonder if Montessori preschool will adequately prepare their child for further education. After more than 40 years of teaching experience and much feedback, we can firmly say, “Yes, indeed it does!”
Montessori children have learned how to:
- Acquire knowledge
- Solve problems
- Cope with new information & experiences
As Maria Montessori observed, the patterns of inner direction and concentration stay with children as they go on to higher learning. This is one of the great gifts of a Montessori early education: the joy of exploration and a positive attitude toward learning. A Montessori foundation offers an inner blueprint for success that lasts a lifetime.