According to the American Montessori Society, the Montessori Method “is a child-centered educational approach that recognizes the child as naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning when provided with a supportive, thoughtfully prepared environment and sequential, hands-on learning materials. It is an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the child as a whole.”
Dr. Maria Montessori, one of Italy’s first female physicians, developed the Montessori Method in 1907. Utilizing her previous work experiences, including the scientific observation of young children, Dr. Montessori opened a child-care center in Rome, which included a unique learning environment and materials that fostered the students’ natural desire to learn. Utilizing her methods, Dr. Montessori’s students flourished and exceeded all expectations. The principles that guided Dr. Montessori’s work over 100 years ago are still practiced by Montessori educators today.
What Makes Montessori Education Unique?
The Whole Child Approach: The Montessori Method’s primary goal is to help each child reach his or her full potential in all areas of life. The child’s emotional, social, spiritual, physical, and cognitive needs and interests are considered inseparable and of equal importance.
The Prepared Environment
Children engage in self-directed learning within a classroom setting that is thoughtfully prepared by the teacher to encourage exploration, independence, freedom within limits, beauty, harmony, and a sense of order and trust. Through individual choice, the child utilizes materials within the environment to develop him- or herself, interacting with the teacher when support or guidance is needed.
The Montessori Materials
Students within Montessori classrooms utilize specially designed learning materials, manipulating and investigating them to master the lessons they embody. The teacher presents the materials, which teaches one skill or concept at a time. Built in “control of error” allows the child to determine if he or she has done the exercise correctly. Materials can be used repeatedly at different developmental levels, as they offer multiple levels of challenge.
The Montessori teacher serves as a role model, guide, and demonstrator. She carefully observes and records each student’s behavior and growth. In preparing the classroom environment, she makes sure it meets each student’s unique interests, academic levels, and developmental needs. In order for a teacher to become AMS-credentialed, she must complete a Montessori training program which is specialized and extensive.
How Does Montessori Education Work?
Freedom within limits is the operating principle within every Montessori classroom. Age appropriate classroom rules are based on the core Montessori beliefs of respect for self, for others, and for the environment.
Montessori teachers present individual and small-group lessons on the specialized materials within the environment. Students are then given the freedom to work at their own pace with the materials they have chosen. The teacher carefully observes the children to determine which new activities and materials to introduce. The goal of Montessori education is to encourage active, self-directed learning.
A multi-year age span (typically three years) can be found within a Montessori classroom, which provides a family-like setting where learning can occur naturally. More experienced children are able to share what they have learned, while reinforcing their own learning, and younger students look up to older students.