Maria Montessori, a 19th century physician and educator observed that human being teach themselves when given a rich child-centered environment. The Montessori philosophy is based on a comprehensive educational approach from birth through adulthood. Dr. Montessori developed her method while observing a variety of cultures and concluded that all children have universal tendencies and capabilities to acquire knowledge.
Dr. Maria Montessori carefully designed “materials for development” that invite the children to engage in meaningful activities. Each piece of equipment, every exercise and every material have a specific skill in order for the child to “naturally” teach him/herself. Each of the curriculum areas has a scope and sequence and interrelationships that clearly deliver concepts through a child’s mind. Dr. Montessori’s utmost goal for each child was to maximize his/her freedom to learn and explore through movement while giving choices in a structured environment. She managed to create an environment with a balance of freedom and discipline to meet a child’s psychological, cognitive, spiritual, and social development needs.
Dr. Montessori was an inspirational leader of educational reform who discovered that a child’s energies and mental capacities are within his/her nature to learn. The scientific method developed by Dr. Montessori have been tested and proven worldwide to bring forth the very best in young human beings.
The Montessori Method*
The Montessori approach offers a broad vision of education as an aid to life. It is designed to help children with their task of inner construction as they grow from childhood to maturity. It succeeds because it draws its principles from the natural development of the child. Its flexibility provides a matrix within which each individual child’s inner directives freely guide the child toward wholesome growth.
The transformation of children from birth to adulthood occurs through a series of developmental planes. Montessori practice changes in scope and manner to embrace the child’s changing characteristics and interests.
- The first plane of development occurs from birth to age six. At this stage, children are sensorial explorers, constructing their intellects by absorbing every aspect of their environment, their language and their culture.
- From age 6 to 12, children become conceptual explorers. They develop their powers of abstraction and imagination, and apply their knowledge to discover and expand their worlds further.
- The years between 12 and 18 see the children become humanistic explorers, seeking to understand their place in society and their opportunity to contribute
- From 18 to 24, as young adults, they become specialised explorers, seeking a niche from which to contribute to universal dialogue.
Montessori classrooms provide a prepared environment where children are free to respond to their natural tendency to work. The children’s innate passion for learning is encouraged by giving them opportunities to engage in spontaneous, purposeful activities with the guidance of a trained adult. Through their work, the children develop concentration and joyful self-discipline. Within a framework of order, the children progress at their own pace and rhythm, according to their individual capabilities.
The role of a Montessori guide is that of an observer whose ultimate goal is to intervene less and less as the child develops. The guide creates an atmosphere of calm, order and joy in the classroom and is there to help and encourage the children in all their efforts, allowing them to develop self-confidence and inner discipline. With the younger students at each level, the teacher is more active, demonstrating the use of materials and presenting activities based on an assessment of the child’s requirements. Knowing how to observe constructively and when, and how much, to intervene, is one of the most important talents the Montessori teacher acquires during a rigorous course of training at AMI training centres throughout the world.
Assistants to Infancy
The first three years of life are the most fundamental in the development of human beings and their potential. The infant’s physical development is phenomenal and apparent and inspires our care and attention. Yet a profound and less obvious development is taking place within the child. Montessori refers to the child at this period as the spiritual embryo. A second embryonic period occurs after birth during the first three years of life when the child’s intelligence is formed, when the child acquires the culture and language into which he or she is born. It is a period when the core of personality, social being and the essence of spiritual life are developed. An understanding of the child’s development and the development of the human mind allows environments to be prepared to meet the needs of the infant and foster independence, psychomotor development and language acquisition.
For children under the age of three, there are two Montessori environments. The Parent-Infant class provides a setting in which parents and their children, aged two to sixteen months, are gathered under the care of a trained adult. After they begin to walk, the children join the toddler group where their primary motor coordination, independence and language are cultivated. Rather than a classroom, it is a nurturing environment where very young children experience their first structured contact with other children.
Casa dei Bambini
Children of this age possess what Dr. Montessori called the Absorbent Mind. This type of mind has the unique and transitory ability to absorb all aspects physical, mental, spiritual of the environment, without effort or fatigue. As an aid to the child’s self-construction, individual work is encouraged. The following areas of activity cultivate the children’s ability to express themselves and think with clarity.
Practical Life exercises instill care for themselves, for others, and for the environment. The activities include many of the tasks children see as part of the daily life in their home washing and ironing, doing the dishes, arranging flowers, etc. Elements of human conviviality are introduced with the exercises of grace and courtesy. Through these and other activities, children develop muscular coordination, enabling movement and the exploration of their surroundings. They learn to work at a task from beginning to end, and develop their will (defined by Dr. Montessori as the intelligent direction of movement), their self-discipline and their capacity for total concentration.
Sensorial Materials are tools for development. Children build cognitive efficacy, and learn to order and classify impressions. They do this by touching, seeing, smelling, tasting, listening, and exploring the physical properties of their environment through the mediation of specially-designed materials.
Language is vital to human existence. The Montessori environment provides rich and precise language.
“When the children come into the classroom at around three years of age, they are given in the simplest way possible the opportunity to enrich the language they have acquired during their small lifetime and to use it intelligently, with precision and beauty, becoming aware of its properties not by being taught, but by being allowed to discover and explore these properties themselves. If not harassed, they will learn to write, and as a natural consequence to read, never remembering the day they could not write or read in the same way that they do not remember that once upon a time they could not walk.”
Geography, History, Biology, Botany, Zoology, Art and Music are presented as extensions of the sensorial and language activities. Children learn about other cultures past and present, and this allows their innate respect and love for their environment to flourish, creating a sense of solidarity with the global human family and its habitat.
Experiences with nature in conjunction with the materials in the environment inspire a reverence for all life. History is presented to the children through art and an intelligent music programme.
The mathematics materials help the child learn and understand mathematical concepts by working with concrete materials. This work provides the child with solid underpinnings for traditional mathematical principles, providing a structured scope for abstract reasoning.
*Association Montessori Internationale