Questions About Montessori SchoolsWhy Choose a Montessori School?
WHAT IS MONTESSORI?
Montessori is a unique method of teaching developed more than 100 years ago by Italian born physician, educator and peace advocate, Dr. Maria Montessori.
The Montessori teaching method uses hands-on, self-correcting materials in a thoughtfully prepared environment that encourages responsibility, independence and confidence. It is an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child – physical, social, emotional and cognitive.
Students are focused due to their desire to learn. They work in multi-age classrooms at their own pace, guided by the teacher, until they master their work. In this environment, learning is an exciting process of self-discovery. Children are fully engaged in work that matters to them. They are given freedom with responsibility – they are trusted and respected. Montessori is the spark that ignites a lifelong love of learning.
Some basic premises of the Montessori approach to teaching and learning include:
- Children have a natural tendency to learn by active participation.
- Children are capable of self-directed learning.
- Children learn in a distinctly different way from adults.
- Children are masters of a classroom environment that has been specifically prepared for them to be academic, comfortable, and to allow a maximum amount of independence.
- Children learn through discovery, so instructional materials that are self-correcting are used as much as possible.
What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?
Montessori represents an entirely different approach to education where emphasis is placed on all five senses, not just listening, watching or reading. Children in Montessori classes learn at their own individual pace and according to their own choice of activities from hundreds of possibilities. Learning is an exciting process of discovery leading to concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a lifelong love of learning. Montessori classes place children in three-year age groups (3-6, 6-9, 9-12, etc.), forming communities in which the older children spontaneously share their knowledge with the younger children.
Where did Montessori come from?
Montessori (pronounced MON-tuh-SORE-ee) education was founded in 1907 by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female physician in Italy. She based her educational methods on scientific observation of children’s learning processes. Guided by her discovery that children are born with the ability to teach themselves, Dr. Montessori designed a “prepared environment” in which children could freely choose from a number of developmentally appropriate activities. Now, a century after Dr. Montessori’s first Casa dei Bambini (“Children’s House”) in Rome, Montessori education is offered worldwide, spanning ages from birth to adolescence.
Why a 3 year program?
Dr. Montessori identified four “planes of development,” with each stage having its own developmental characteristics and challenges. The Early Childhood Montessori environment for children ages three to six is designed to work with the “absorbent mind,” their “sensitive periods” and the tendencies of children at this stage of their development. The years from 3-6 are one phase of growth, with physical, intellectual and psychological characteristics common to that whole period. Learning that takes place during these years comes spontaneously without effort, leading children to enter the elementary years with a clear, concrete sense of many abstract concepts. This process seems to necessitate an educational approach with an extended time frame within which the individual child has room to grow at his/her own pace. In accord with this thinking, a Montessori school program, including the developmental learning aids and the work activities which go with it, is sequential and meant to be experienced over a three-year time span and not in individual, successive, one-year capsules.
The 3-year cycle also relates to Montessori’s valuable concept of age-mixed and ungraded classes. However, it is not just a simple matter of 3-4 year olds, 4-5 year olds, and 5-6 year olds spending time together in one environment. The hope is really that the younger children might learn from older ones who, in turn, have come up from “the ranks” and are well on their way to being self-directed. Such quality is hard to achieve with frequent and substantial turn over. Montessori teaches us that the human personality comes into full engagement and self realization in successive stages and sub-stages of life – 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and beyond. Along the way, different things are introduced to these children within prepared environments, such as math, language, art and music. The design at each level of a Montessori class, has the child’s individual and physiological development in mind. The three year cycle allows the Guide to follow the natural transitions occurring within each child over a period of development, enabling them to meet the child’s individual needs and/or interests when those sensitive periods arise.
Within each 3-year cycle, a body of information and skills are presented. Failure to complete the 3-year cycle results in the child not achieving the “total possibility” offered by the class. Many loose ends, partially developed skills and incoherent knowledge are obvious. Montessori recognized sensitive periods in the development of children’s lives when they show strong interest in certain aspects of their environment. She designed her progress to introduce aspects of learning at a time when the children are most receptive. The third year is the culmination of this process. Within each 3 year cycle, a sequenced body of information and skills is presented. Much depends on the repetition, at successive stages of development, of similar exercises, so that understanding is fully assimilated through senses, feelings and thinking. Failure to complete a 3 year cycle will leave gaps in knowledge and understanding that may be difficult to fill at a later stage. The 3 year cycle ensures completion of the work necessary to the development of the whole child at that particular age.
To receive the full benefits of a Montessori education, a child who enrolls should remain in the program for 3 years or more. Each step of a child’s development and learning from the time he/she enters the Montessori classroom serves as a solid foundation for the next. The child who does not finish the program will never experience the same benefits, joy and satisfaction of having reached the end. A good analogy would be reading a book but never knowing what the last chapter is. If you never know how it ends, your experience won’t be the same. The Montessori program works in the same way.
The 3-year Montessori experience tends to nurture a joy of learning that prepares them for further challenges. This process seems to work best when children enter a Montessori program at about3 and stay at least through the kindergarten year. Children entering at age 4 or 5 do not consistently come to the end of the 3 year cycle having developed the same skills, work habits or values. Older children entering Montessori may do quite well in this very different setting, but this will depend to a large degree on their personality, previous educational experiences and the way they have been raised at home. Montessori programs can usually accept a few older children into an established class, so long as the family understands and accepts that some critical opportunities may have been missed, and these children may not reach the same levels of achievement seen in the other children of that age. On the other hand, because of the individualized pace of learning in Montessori classrooms, this will not normally be a concern.
Are Montessori children successful later in life?
Research studies show that Montessori children are well prepared academically, socially and emotionally for later in life. In addition to scoring well on standardized tests, Montessori children are ranked above average on such criteria as following directions, turning in work on time, listening attentively, using basic skills, showing responsibility, asking provocative questions, showing enthusiasm for learning and adapting to new situations. There have been many famous people who have had a montessori education. Just a few listed here: Larry Page and Sergey Brin – Founders of Google, Jeff Bezos – Founder of Amazon, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis – former First Lady, Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs – Singer, Prince Harry and Prince William.
Can I use Montessori principles at home with my child?
Yes. Look at your home through your child’s eyes. Children need a sense of belonging and they acquire that sense by participating fully in the routines of everyday life. “Help me do it by myself” is the life theme of the preschooler. Find ways for your child to participate in meal preparation, cleaning, gardening, and caring for clothes, shoes and toys. Providing opportunities for independence is the surest way to build your child’s self-esteem. Many parents use the Montesesori philosophy with their children by following the children’s interest and not interrupting concentration. In school, only a trained Montessori teacher can properly implement Montessori education using the specialized learning equipment of the Montessori “prepared environment.” In a Montessori school, social development comes from being in a positive and unique environment with other children which is an integral part of Montessori education.
Traditional School vs. Montessori School
emphasis on rote knowledge and social development
teacher’s role is dominant and active; child is a passive participant
teacher is primary enforcer of external discipline
individual and group instruction conforms to the adult’s teaching style
same age grouping
most teaching done by teacher and collaboration is discouraged
curriculum structured with little regard for child’s interests
child is guided to concepts by teacher
child is usually given specific time for work
instruction pace set by group norm or teacher
errors corrected by teacher
learning is reinforced externally by
rewards and discouragements
few materials for sensory, concrete manipulation
little emphasis on instruction on classroom maintenance
child assigned seat; encourages to sit still
and listen during group sessions
voluntary parent involvement, often only as fundraisers, not participants in understanding the learning process
emphasis on cognitive structures and social development
teacher’s role is unobtrusive; child actively participates in learning
environment and method encourage internal self-discipline
individual and group instruction adapts to each student’s learning style
mixed age grouping
children encouraged to teach, collaborate, and help each other
child chooses own work from interests and abilities
child formulates concepts from self-teaching materials
child works as long as they want on chosen project
child sets own learning pace to internalize information
child spots own errors through feedback from material
learning is reinforced internally through child’s own repetition of activity, internal feelings of success
multi-sensory materials for physical exploration development
organized program for learning care of self and self-care environment
child can work where they are comfortable, moves and talks at will (yet doesn’t disturb others); group work is voluntary and negotiate
organized program for parents to understand the Montessori philosophy and participate in the learning process
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