The Montessori Method
A True Montessori School
Three Aspects of the Montessori Approach
1. The Child
The activity of the child has always been looked upon as an expression of his vitality. But his activity is really the work he performs in building up the man he is to become. It is the incarnation of the human spirit.
Montessori philosophy is based on the belief that the most important work of a child is the realization of the person they will become. Each child contains within an amazing potential for this self construction. Montessorians have the highest regard for this process of inner construction and therefore, we believe that the will of the child must never be broken. We believe that the will of the child should be encouraged and assisted to develop along wholesome lines. This occurs through concentration, repetition, movement and the free choice of purposeful activity.
At a given moment a child becomes interested in a piece of work, showing by the expression of his face, by his intense attention, by his perseverance in the same exercise. That child has set foot upon the road leading to discipline.
Maria Montessori observed several ‘sensitive periods’ in the life of a child. Sensitive periods are a time during which a child develops a particular skill with greater ease than at any other time in their life; a language for example is learned much easier as a child than as an adult. By observing the child we can see optimum times for learning and present the skills according to the child’s needs.
Montessori also fostered the understanding that the child from birth to the age of six has an ‘absorbent mind’. They are explorers that seek out and absorb every aspect of their environment, language and culture. Through the unhindered use of their absorbent mind, they construct their intellect and develop their skills of attention and concentration. This starts them on a lifelong path of learning and self construction.
It can be said that the period of childhood is an age of ‘inner life’ which leads to the developing, maturing, and perfecting of all the faculties.
By calling a child to the development of his rich inner life, we are freeing him to become the realization of his fullest potential. Spiritually, intellectually and psychically, the child as a whole being with an amazing potential, a being with the important task of unfolding that inner life…that is how Montessori sees a child.
2. The Environment
Education is a natural process carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words, but by experiences in the environment.
The prepared environment of a Montessori classroom allows children to take responsibility for their own education. Within a framework of order they are free to choose the activities that will assist them in their process of self construction. The classroom contains self correcting, sequenced materials in the following areas:
No one can be free unless he is independent: therefore, the first, active manifestation of the child’s individual liberty must be so guided that through this activity he may arrive at independence.
The exercises of Practical Life encourage independence, concentration, order and coordination. They instill within the child care for themselves, for others, and for their environment. These are the activities of daily living. Pouring, sweeping, scrubbing and polishing, through these and other activities the child develops muscular coordination, self discipline and the intelligent direction of movement or ‘will’.
Also included are the exercises of grace and courtesy. These encourage respect and an attitude of cooperation and helpfulness that are essential to a child’s developing social skills and emerging sense of community with others.
The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge.
The Sensorial materials are the tool for the development of the senses. This enables the child to order and classify his environment with cognitive efficacy. Exercises in touching, seeing, listening, smelling and tasting refine the senses and lead to a higher level of exploration and greater understanding and appreciation of the world. These activities and others prepare the child for the academic area’s; Math and Language.
The ability to write will be acquired as the result of the analysis of the words each one possesses and of the activity of one’s mind which is interested in such a magical conquest.
The development of language is essential to the human experience. It is through language that we share our ideas, our knowledge and indeed our souls with one another. The Montessori classroom offers a precise and rich approach to language development. It is not uncommon for a child to begin to share ideas first verbally and then by writing. They flow into reading as an extension of their desire to share and explore experiences.
We teach reading phonetically, the child is first introduced to the sounds of the letters, then he is shown how to listen for the sounds at the beginning, ending, and in the middle of words. The blending of sounds and the formation of simple words comes next. Each step gently leads to the next step. As the child moves through the materials, his confidence and desire grows until the child experiences an ‘explosion’ into writing and reading. His determination to express himself motivates his progress and his progress builds his self confidence.
D. Cultural Extensions
We see no limit to what should be offered to the child, for his will be an immense field of chosen activity.
Language and sensorial are extended within the classroom through the activities of culture. History, Geography, Biology, Botany, Zoology, Science, Art and Music are presented to the child in a sequenced, experiential format. This ‘Cosmic Curriculum’ is boundless and allows children to flourish in a rich environment. They explore their own and other cultures, past and present. This encourages the expression of their love for humanity to rise and extend to a full appreciation of a global community.
Children show a great attachment to the abstract subjects when they arrive at them through manual activity. They proceed to fields of knowledge hitherto held inaccessible to them, as grammar and mathematics.
Montessori math materials start with a concrete presentation of various mathematical concepts. The child, working with the materials, develops an understanding of quantities, symbols, the decimal system and of the basic operations; addition, multiplication, subtraction and division. This understanding is very concrete at first and provides a solid base for the abstraction of these concepts.
The child moves very step by step through the materials, practicing each step and building on his learning experiences starting with the concrete and leading towards the abstract. This provides the child with a solid foundation for future learning and a structural scope for abstract reasoning.
F. Age Groupings
Another important aspect of the Montessori classroom is the 3 year age grouping.
Beyond the more obvious reasons why it is sensible to group the ages three by three, such as the little ones learn from the older children and the older ones learn by teaching the younger, every child can work at his own pace and rhythm, eliminating the bane of competition, there is the matter of order and discipline easily maintained even in very large classes with only one adult in charge. This is due to the sophisticated balance between liberty and discipline prevalent in Montessori classrooms, established at the very inception of a class. Children, who have acquired the fine art of working freely in a structured environment, joyfully assume responsibly for upholding this structure, contributing to the cohesion of their social unit.
And so within the structure of this richly prepared environment, the child finds the means and the freedom for the self construction that he is called to by his very nature.
3. The Teacher
The teacher’s first duty is to watch over the environment, and this takes precedence over all the rest. Its influence is indirect, but unless it be well done there will be no effective and permanent results of any kind, physical, intellectual, or spiritual.
Indeed, the teacher in a Montessori Classroom is the guardian of the environment. The teacher creates and maintains a rich atmosphere of Peace, order and joy. Working within that harmonious atmosphere, the goal of the Montessori teacher is to intervene less and less as the child develops.
In the beginning and with the younger children the teacher presents and demonstrates the exercise frequently, then later only as needed based on the constant observation and assessment of the child. The teacher is always available to help and encourage children and to protect their process of self construction. They will be free to develop their own skills, confidence and inner discipline with as little interference as possible. The teacher floats in and out of the child’s natural process of inner growth, kind respectful and always sensitive to the needs of the child.