THE MONTESSORI METHOD
Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female physician in Italy, through her work with deprived preschool age children, made a startling and revolutionary discovery. If a young child is placed in an environment rich in materials that meet his developmental needs and he is given the freedom to choose his activities according to these needs, he learns spontaneously, effortlessly and joyously.
In such an environment, the child unfolds, exhibiting traits formerly thought to be impossible of the preschooler, such as tremendous concentration and attention span, self-discipline, a high degree of large and small muscle coordination, a real desire to help and share with others and a love of peace and silence.
The essence of Montessori’s discovery is that a child between the ages of 0 and 6 learns in a different way altogether. He absorbs skills and concepts from his world and actually incorporates them into his being. The only example we can relate to as adults is language. Our mother tongue is literally a part of us. We cannot forget it, or remember learning it or imagine never knowing it. Whatever a child learns at this important age, be it math, courteous behavior, or the musical scale, it becomes a part of him not to be forgotten.
Why freedom to choose? The child learns with his “absorbent” mind in different stages of development which we will call sensitive periods. He does not take an avid interest in everything at the same time. That would result in chaos, not intelligence. Nature has an orderly plan that is unique to each child. Using the example of language again, we can see that when the baby becomes interested in or sensitive to language, he is insatiable until he has mastered it. He asks over and over, “What’s that?” because he is fulfilling a vital need. It is the same for all other learning. The child will have a sensitive period for colors, shapes, numbers, reading, writing and a host of other things too numerous to list. If he is in an environment conducive to meeting these needs, he will select and pursue them with his whole effort until they are his forever.
Children do not differentiate between work and play. What ever appeals is what they want to do. The Montessori Method classroom, scaled to the child and full of fascinating things to do, is irresistible. Outside pressure does not exist in the classroom. The emphasis is not on competition or production, but on mutual cooperation and the fullest possible development of each child according to his capabilities.
There is much discipline that goes hand in hand with the freedom the children experience. There is no learning without discipline, Dr. Montessori said, but the authority of the teacher is replaced by the individual inner discipline in the children as the year progresses.
In class where the virtues of character are as highly prized as academic achievement, children grow not only in self-confidence, but also in a sense of responsibility. Intellect, physical powers, and moral insight must all be developed if a child is to be prepared to meet the demands of life.
Dr. Maria Montessori believed that no human being is educated by another person. He must do it himself or it will never be done. A truly educated individual continues learning long after the hours and years he spends in the classroom because he is motivated from within by a natural curiosity and love for knowledge. Dr. Montessori felt, therefore, that the goal of early childhood education would not be to fill the child with facts from a preselected course of studies, but rather to cultivate his own natural desire to learn.
WHO IS MARIA MONTESSORI?
She was a remarkable woman, born in 1870. Despite extreme social pressure, she was the first woman to attend medical school and the first female doctor of medicine in Italy. Through her work with handicapped and socially deprived children, she developed her unique educational method, known as the Montessori Method. As a result of her further study, observation and experimentation, she found the principles of her method to be applicable to all children.
HOW IS A MONTESSORI SCHOOL DIFFERENT FROM OTHER PRESCHOOLS?
The materials used by the children in a Montessori class are specially designed sensorial (able to be experienced and manipulated through the senses) materials, each with a unique educational and developmental purpose. They give the child clear, orderly, concrete impressions in all areas of learning. One of their greatest attributes is that they have universal child appeal. They entice the child to fall in love with learning by providing him with successful, stimulating and satisfying first encounters with classroom education. It is a preschool with goals and a program that is specifically designed to accomplish those goals for each and every child.
DO THE CHILDREN RECEIVE TLC?
The Montessori Method emerged out of Dr. Montessori’s love and respect for children. The teachers who have adopted this method have invested considerable time and money into being trained for a lifetime of working with little children. In this environment of caring and sharing, the children themselves express great love and kindness towards each other. The “tender loving care” of Montessori class can never take the place of a loving home, but it gives the child a secure and happy experience for his first “going out” into the world.
WHAT IS THE TEACHER’S ROLE IN A MONTESSORI CLASS?
Since the Montessori materials are self-correcting and designed for the child to do the manipulating, the teacher’s role is a different one than in most schools. She even has a different name – a “Directress” – instead of a teacher. As her name implies, her job is giving the child direction. She is the link between the child and the environment. She is the guiding force that introduces him to new experiences, sets him on a correct course, and then steps aside for him to gain the knowledge, the thrill of discovery, and the satisfaction of achievement for himself. She is constantly observing, recording and planning each child’s progress and setting the stage for him to gain a well-rounded intellectual and developmental experience.
WHAT ABOUT KINDERGARTEN?
We encourage parents to take advantage of the Montessori class until the child enters first grade. For the five-year-old, his final year in the Montessori class is often the most exciting. Great feats of new learning take place and the children have the added benefit of reviewing many of the fundamentals by acting as the teachers of the little ones. The five-year-old is a very precious individual to the class. It is his caring for the harmony of the class and for the younger children which make it the wonderful, warm community that it is.
WHY THE AGE SPAN OF 18 MONTHS to 3 YEARS FOR TODDLER AND 3 YEARS TO 6 YEARS FOR PRIMARY?
From birth to about five years old, the child possesses what Dr. Montessori called the “absorbent mind.” Children literally absorb skills from their environment. In the Montessori class, the little ones benefit greatly by their continuous contact with the high level of learning and control going on among the older children. They often unconsciously absorb these new skills. Since each child works at his own rate, the older children are not held back by the younger ones. The older children learn patience, kindness and understanding in dealing with those not as advanced as they. In real life, people do not always deal with people of their exact age. A wide span of ages is the normal situation. The ultimate goal of the Montessori class is to prepare the child for the real world.
WITH ALL OF THE INDIVIDUAL WORK, WHERE DOES SOCIALIZATION COME IN?
When we speak of individual activity, what is meant is self-chosen activity where children progress at their own rates. This often takes the form of children working in small groups as well as children working alone or with the teacher. Being free to move around the class and enter and exit into different groups develops the child’s social skills. Larger group activity is also included in the Montessori class. Children spend some time each day in a larger group singing, listening to stories, doing finger plays and poems and participating in the many events that take place at circle time.
HOW DO MONTESSORI CHILDREN ADAPT TO FIRST GRADE?
Individual school studies have shown that the feedback from first grade teachers is very positive. The children have more initiative, self-reliance, self-control, creativity and ability to associate. They are able to articulate more easily and are class leaders. They seem to take with them all of the positive attitudes they have developed, as well as their intellectual achievements. Children are the most adaptable of all people. The vast majority enter new situations enthusiastically, expecting the best unless they have been led to believe otherwise.
WHAT IS MEANT BY FREEDOM AND DISCIPLINE IN A MONTESSORI CLASS?
The freedom given to the children in the Montessori environment is in no way license. There are rules to be understood, respected and carried out. In a Montessori class, self-discipline is the goal, not the point of departure. Over the course of the year, the children move more and more towards this goal and away from the need for outside regulation. In the beginning, however, the source of control is the teacher exercising loving firmness, fairness and consistency. Discipline, even in the beginning, never really becomes a problem. Most misbehavior in young children stems from boredom. There is too much to do and see and learn in the Montessori class for the children to waste their time misbehaving.
WHAT ARE THE GOALS OF A MONTESSORI CLASS?
The goals are to actively aid each child in achieving for himself: independence, self-control, self-discipline, initiative, self-reliance, self-respect, the ability to concentrate, sharing with and caring for others, courteousness, a high degree of large and small muscle coordination, the foundations of intelligent thinking and a lasting love of learning.
Our Montessori class is composed of the blending of age 3 to 6 year old children. It is a prepared environment that meets the needs of the whole child – his mind, his body and his spirit. The children work at their own rates with self-chosen materials which encourage and stimulate them to investigate their world through practical life and sensorial activities, math, language, reading, geography, history, creative writing, science, indoor and outdoor gardening, sewing, music, and art. The benefits the children derive from this program are: independence, self-discipline and self-control, the ability to work together and share, a community spirit, self-confidence, self-respect, a successful and positive school experience and a lasting love of learning.
Maria Montessori: Her Life and Works, E. M. Standing.
The Absorbent Mind, Dr. Maria Montessori
The Secret of Childhood, Dr. Maria Montessori
QUESTIONS OR MORE INFO?
Jan Haas, Administrator
305 Park Avenue
Newport, KY 41071