Montessori is an education for life, a learning process where children are encouraged to develop at their own pace in a safe and caring environment. Established world-wide, the Montessori Method has proven successful with children from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. It has been effectively used with gifted as well as physically and intellectually disabled children.
Dr. Maria Montessori was, in many ways, ahead of her time. Born in Italy in 1870 she was originally a medical doctor who brought the scientific methods of observation, experimentation and research to the study of children, their development and education.
The Qualities of Children
Her new approaches to education revealed that children worldwide possessed qualities and abilities (unsuspected until that time) that seemed to have been awaiting release. Among these qualities are:
- High level of concentration. Previously it was considered that children had short attention spans. Dr Montessori was amazed to observe the length of time that very young children would choose to attend to tasks which interested them.
- Love of repetition. On their own, children would choose to practice things they were trying to master over and over again.
- Love of order. Whereas we normally think of children as messy, Dr Montessori found that young children have a natural inclination for organization and orderliness. This natural inclination can be helped and developed if provision is made to foster it.
- Freedom of choice. Children like to choose things they do. If materials are set out for children so that they have easy access to them, children will choose, take and replace them without the need of assistance from an adult.
- Children prefer work to play. Adults tend to think children only want to play and not work. However, Dr Montessori found that play was a substitute for what the children really wanted to do, but couldn’t. For example children like to play “house”.
- No need for reward and punishment. Montessori discovered that children are intrinsically motivated to work. They do not need external rewards and punishments. What they need is help.
- Lovers of silence. Whereas it is easy to think of children as noisy, Montessori discovered that young children enjoy finding out how quiet they can be. Visitors to a Montessori classroom are struck by the orderliness and calm of the children. There is a buzz of conversation and activity, but not to the extent that one child or group disturbs another.
- Sense of personal dignity. Children want to be capable and held in high regard. They want to be able to do things for themselves. A child would rather tie his own shoe laces than have them tied.
- Desire to read and write. In the beginning, Dr Montessori didn’t believe that young children of four and five years of age should be involved in reading and writing. However, the children showed such interest that she provided some beginning materials.
The Montessori Program
Years of patient observation led Maria Montessori to realize that children pass through very definite stages of development. Therefore in a Montessori school children pass through three cycles – 1st (3-6 years), 2nd (6-9 years) and 3rd (9-12 years) – instead of the usual grades.
The Montessori classroom is a vibrant community of approximately 25 children. The age and sex mix comprises a three year age range of both boys and girls. The older children will teach the younger, thereby further increasing their confidence and knowledge. They also acquire a sense of responsibility through being leaders in the class, which further enhances their self-image. Meanwhile the younger children are inspired to more advanced work through observing the older ones. With such a variety of levels in the classroom each child can work at his/her own pace. The program therefore facilitates the development of a caring class community within which co-operative, rather than competitive learning can flourish.
A Montessori program is different in a number of ways:
- It teaches to individuals instead of to groups
- Children learn through experience rather than through listening and having to remember.
- The Montessori curriculum is much broader than many other programs.
- With regard to discipline, in a Montessori program the emphasis is on self-discipline developed through helping a child learn how to appropriately meet needs rather than disciplining through the use of rewards and punishments.
- In a Montessori classroom the organisation of the room allows children easy access to a variety of learning experiences.
- The materials in a Montessori classroom are carefully designed and thoroughly researched to fit the developmental needs and characteristics of children.
- The Montessori method of helping a child is through a process of showing a child what to do in a positive manner.
- The Montessori Program is systematic and carefully sequenced according to principles of development. Every activity is carefully thought out to build upon previous preparation and to lead on to a more complex activity.
- The Montessori program is designed to develop independence and responsibility.
- The routine of the Montessori program is based on the principle of freedom of choice, rather then on set times for prescribed activities.
- In Montessori Programs children are viewed as positive beings whose primary work is the construction of an adult.
The Montessori Preschool
The preschool room is attractive, with many carefully designed materials and activities. The children are free to engage in any activities that interest them. They can work by themselves, or with a friend, or a group of friends. They can spend as much time as needed in any activity. They have opportunities to do things they see parents do at home. They can prepare food such as grating carrots, peeling tomatoes, cutting bananas, cracking nuts, or squeezing oranges. They can do carpentry such as hammering, nailing and sawing. They can learn to tie shoes, use a zip, and buttons. They can listen to music, sing, dance, and learn to play an instrument. They can paint, draw, work with clay, learn to sew, make masks or puppets. They can learn to count or make words. They can look at books about all the wonderful things in the world around them. They can look at a globe and look at pictures taken from different parts of the world. And, they can run, climb, play games, and have fun with their friends. They can sit on a knee and hug a teacher.
The Montessori Primary Classroom
Children work with many different concrete materials which help them to learn through an active process. In using these materials the children can make their own books, draw their own maps or time lines, and develop their own projects. As a result the classroom is a busy, happy place to be. Since the classroom is well organised the children can find what they want and work without having to wait for the teacher.
Some children may be reading while others are doing mathematics. Some people may be studying about ants, whilst others are listening to classical music on headphones.
From Montessori to Mainstream
Children from a Montessori program like school and are usually interested in everything. Typically they are friendly, generous, co-operative, and respectful of both property and others. Because of this, they usually fit in well wherever they go after attending a Montessori program.
The Montessori Trained Teacher
Montessori teachers in Queensland need a state teaching qualification and to be registered with the Education Department. They then undertake Montessori training either through correspondence or full time training. They are given the opportunity to practice and to demonstrate what they have learnt.
The Brisbane Montessori School located at Fig Tree Pocket in the Western Suburbs has grown to become one of the largest Montessori schools in Australia now catering for children aged 0 to 17 (kindergarten, preschool, primary and secondary). For further information you can visit http://www.bms.qld.edu.au/ or phone the school on Ph: 07 3878 1666.
The information for this article was sourced from the Brisbane Montessori School publications – Questions and Answers about the Montessori Approach to Education derived from the publication M.W.E.I. Introduction Brochure; and Fostering A Love of Learning Brochure.
Gwenda Jayawardhana is an avid supporter of Natural Childbirth and the
Montessori philosophy. She is proud mum to three beautiful children aged 5,
3, and 4 months.
Montessori – A Modern Approach – Paula Polk Lillard
The Absorbent Mind – Dr. Maria Montessori
The Montessori Method – Dr. Maria Montessori
The Secret of Childhood – Dr. Maria Montessori