The Montessori philosophy is based on a profound respect for each child as a unique human being. Our approach assumes that children are born intelligent, curious, creative and are ripe to develop a sense of wonder and imagination. The goal is not to control, but to inspire our children to learn voluntarily. In its essence, Montessori is designed to teach children to think deeply, to think for themselves and to think about others. We believe that learning how to think for oneself (in effect, learning how to learn) will get a child through both school and life. Maria Montessori believed that children are natural learners and little teachers. Children work for the joy of the process rather than for the end result, and children are excited and energized through work. A child may repeat activities over and over until an inner need is fulfilled.
Maria Montessori, born 1870 in Italy, was one the most influential educators in the 20th century. She was the first woman Medical Doctor. in Italy and was one of the great pioneers in the study of child development. Upon graduation from Rome University Medical School in 1896, she worked with mentally deficient children, which reflected not only compassion, but also a rigorous scientific ability. She became a lecturer at Rome University and set down the foundation of scientific pedagogy in Italy.
In 1905, Dr. Montessori began her innovative approach with a group of children in the slum area of San Lorenzo in Rome. Within a year, her accomplishments with these children earned worldwide acclaim and became a landmark in the education of young children. What ultimately became the Montessori method of education developed there, based upon Montessori’s scientific observations of these children’s almost effortless ability to absorb knowledge from their surroundings, as well as their tireless interest in manipulating materials. Every piece of equipment, every exercise, every method Montessori developed was based on what she observed children to do “naturally,” by themselves, unassisted by adults.
She wrote 25 books on the various aspects of her theory and practice, and formulated her approach for elementary children in 1912. Her unique ability to observe children and gain insight into their development led her to design the education method which is known throughout the world as Montessori education.
Children teach themselves. This simple but profound truth inspired Montessori’s lifelong pursuit of educational reform, methodology, psychology, teaching, and teacher training—all based on her dedication to furthering the self-creating process of the child.
Today, nearly 100 years later, her schools continue to thrive and expand, a tribute to her inspirational insight, which has helped change the course of childhood education.
It is the child who makes the man and no man exists who was not made by the child he once was.
Dr. Montessori’s educational philosophy and method evolved from her belief that children, with their different form of intelligence from adults, can learn from an early age. Montessori named this growth stage “the absorbent mind”, where children learn everything from an unconscious to conscious state of mind. Adults can assist the growth by providing them with ample opportunities for work, play, pleasure and freedom to explore.
Montessori advocated that education should be for independence, liberty, and empowerment of the child. She referred to her approach of education as an “aid to life” that focuses on the development of the human personality, not solely the acquisition of information. Montessori education seeks to create a link between school-learning and society – encouraging initiative and independent learning and the development of self-discipline and responsible social behaviour. “The education of the small child aims to prepare him for life, not for school,” as Montessori said.
The use of concrete materials specially and beautifully designed to teach abstract concepts and operations is fundamental to the Montessori teaching method. As the teacher guides and monitors the children’s choice of materials to work with, the children can grasp abstract concepts and operations at their ease and with a high level of interest.
Maria Montessori identified important elements in children’s natural development:
Children are inherently good – if allowed to develop freely, they feel connected to everything and are naturally caring towards each other and the world around them.
Certain periods of particular sensitivity occur while children are developing. During these periods children can learn the activity that they are focused on with ease and at a particularly intense rate. These periods include a sensitive period for order, refinement of the senses, language acquisition, walking and movement, small objects and involvement in social life.
Children Thrive on Order and Structure
Order consists in recognizing the place for each object in relation to its environment and in remembering where each thing should be. Order in the environment gives children the safety to explore and develop.
Children Learn Through Their Senses
A true foundation of understanding is developed through the whole body – touch, manipulation, hearing, speaking and observation.
Children Need Freedom
Freedom is the single most important factor in allowing children to develop as spontaneous, creative individuals.
Children Absorb Their Culture
When children are allowed to work in freedom they display love and care towards others. Children literally absorb the world around them. True discipline and harmony comes from within.
Teachers as Guides
Maria Montessori called teachers Directress – their role is to sensitively guide, rather than control, the children’s activities. She asked that they be “more psychologists than teachers” and considered that success lies in the ongoing nature of each teacher’s personal development as well as on the sensitivity of observations of individual children.
The Prepared Environment – The Classroom
A good way to learn about how the Montessori philosophy works is to observe a classroom in action. Your first impression should be of a classroom where all is orderly, clean and inviting, with all the activities displayed so the children can reach them. There are children aged from three to six in the same room. Although some children will work in small groups, occasionally with a teacher, you should see most children working alone for most of the session. There should be a general atmosphere of children doing things for themselves, working with hands-on materials, carefully and competently. One child is counting beads, others are working together on a puzzle map, and in the corner of the room a teacher is introducing a small group of children to a new language activity. They seem unusually independent, putting away materials they have finished with and making their own decisions about what to do next. They take responsibility for their own learning at their own pace. They experience a blend of freedom and self-discipline in a place especially designed to meet their developmental needs.
The Montessori environment is beautiful, with many colours and shapes. The materials have an intriguing appearance and texture and are attractively displayed on open shelves enticing children to experiment with them. The furniture is child-size. Children can easily reach the sink and the coat hooks. Two children could be enjoying a healthy snack that they served themselves. Most of the daily tasks, such as putting on coats, pouring drinks and cleaning up, are accomplished independently by the children themselves. All the children’s senses are used in the educational process. The senses of touch, of sight, of sound and even of smell and taste are all stimulated.
Children are free to choose their own work and can proceed at their own pace. While not compulsory, they are all encouraged to join the group for circle time, the forum for songs, discussion of the current topic, show and tell, and other group activities.
Other aspects of the Montessori philosophy may not be immediately obvious. There is an emphasis on cooperation and respectful behaviour. The adults in the classroom speak to the children at their own level in a calm voice. If a child wants to use a material that another child is working with, they learn to wait patiently for their turn. Children are rarely interrupted if they are concentrating on an activity. The materials are carefully designed so that the children can identify when they have made an error and correct the mistake on their own. This promotes confidence and will boost the child’s self-esteem.
Mixed age (3 to 6) is a very important aspect of the Montessori classroom – by mixed ages we provide freedom of interaction within this real social group – it is not only a group of peers. It allows for a social process of learning, whereby younger children learn from older ones and older children can prove their knowledge, eliminating competition in the classroom.
Being responsible for the prepared environment, the teachers present these purposeful activities at critical periods using their knowledge of each child’s developmental stages. Acting as a link between the child and the material, the teacher assists the children as they progress along the learning path from the concrete to the abstract.
The Montessori Learning Areas
The Montessori environment is divided into several learning areas:
Young children have a strong urge to become independent. Practical Life activities help them to perfect the skills they need in daily life. These activities teach children how to care for themselves and the environment around them. Activities such as table washing, watering plants, making a snack and washing up, enable the child to participate in daily life and promote the development of concentration, hand-eye co-ordination and muscular control. While learning essential life skills, the children are also developing the capacity to focus their attention for the entirety of an activity. Successful completion of such tasks gives children a real sense of their own achievement, and this builds their self-confidence.
Children are vividly aware of the world, constantly exploring it and taking in impressions through all their senses. The sensorial materials encourage children to order and classify the physical properties of the world they live in. Activities focus on educating and refining the child’s senses in order to discover and learn about the environment. Here your child will learn to judge different heights, lengths, weights, colours, smells, sounds, textures and shapes. These activities stimulate and develop the senses, refining children’s powers of observation, perception, exploration and communication. The sensorial materials also prepare the child for reading and writing.
The Montessori approach covers a wide range of subjects which reflect the broad interests of young children. The Montessori environment stimulates these interests and extends knowledge and understanding of art and crafts, geography, history, music, theatre, science and the natural world. Cultures from around the world are explored and celebrated.
Montessori mathematics materials enable even a very young child to achieve a natural appreciation of mathematical concepts through his or her own efforts. This avoids the mental blocks which so often occur in children faced with purely abstract concepts. Specially designed equipment helps children to grasp concrete ideas along with sensory experience of numbers, sizes, quantities and mathematical operations. This builds a solid foundation of mathematical concepts, enabling effective future learning.
Language and Literacy
The freedom offered to the children to express themselves creates many opportunities for them to communicate with their peers and the adults. We emphasise the development of vocabulary based on real experiences and the early preparation required for reading and writing. Advanced activities take the child well beyond the basic skills into reading and writing for interpretation, creativity and pleasure. A wide range of story and reference picture books are always available in the classroom. The joy in language and also in reading and writing is supported and encouraged by the specific teaching structure of the language material, and also by the linguistic role models, provided by the Montessori teachers and the other children. Storytelling, picture viewing, discussions with the children, theatre scene playing, speaking verses and singing songs all form part of the daily routine.
Being outdoors is very important. Children develop gross motor skills as they climb, jump and swing and also social skills as they take turns on equipment and play hide and seek. Montessori believed strongly that children should be in touch with the substance of their world, encouraging work with clay, gardening and growing activities and even building little houses.
Children are not born with an innate knowledge of why we shake hands, or kiss, or rub noses depending on our culture and in the Montessori classroom they learn appropriate greetings. As they become aware of other cultures they are encouraged to celebrate differences and value them equally. During circle time children are shown how to move quietly and carefully around the classroom, push in chairs, wait patiently before politely gaining someone’s attention and are reminded how important it is to allow others to work undisturbed. These ground rules in the classroom give every child total security. Children also learn to notice if somebody needs help and that nobody is too small to be useful.