The Montessori method is an educational method for children, based on theories of child development originated by Italian educator Maria Montessori in the late 19th and early 20th century. It is applied primarily in preschool and elementary school settings, though some Montessori high schools exist.
The method is characterized by an emphasis on self-directed activity on the part of the child and clinical observation on the part of the teacher (often called a “director”, “directress”, or “guide”). It stresses the importance of adapting the child’s learning environment to his or her developmental level, and of the role of physical activity in absorbing academic concepts and practical skills.
Although there are many schools which use the name “Montessori,” the word itself is not recognized as a trademark, nor is it associated with a single specific organization. Thus it is legally possible to use the term “Montessori” without necessary adherence to a particular training or teaching method. This is why it is imperative for parents to know which type of school their children attend, and to ask questions of the schools as well as do research in order to distinguish between a school that can legally use the Montessori name and those that actually use Montessori teaching methods.
Nonetheless, schools identifying themselves as “Montessori schools” generally apply this method in their teaching.
The premises of a Montessori approach to teaching and learning include the following:
- A view of children as competent beings capable of self-directed learning.
- That children learn in a distinctly different way from adults.
- The ultimate importance of observation of the child interacting with her or his environment as the basis for ongoing curriculum development. Presentation of subsequent exercises for skill development and information accumulation are based on the teacher’s observation that the child has mastered the current exercise(s).
- Delineation of sensitive periods of development, during which a child’s mind is particularly open to learning specific skills or knowledge, including language development, sensorial experimentation and refinement, and various levels of social interaction.
- A belief in the “absorbent mind”, that children from birth to around age 6 possess limitless motivation to achieve competence within their environment and to perfect skills and understandings. This phenomenon is characterized by the young child’s capacity for repetition of activities within sensitive period categories, such as exhaustive babbling as language practice leading to language competence.
- That children are masters of their environment, which has been specifically prepared for them to be academic, comfortable, and allow a maximum amount of independence.
- That children learn through discovery, so didactic materials that are self-correcting are used as much as possible.
Montessori is a highly hands-on approach to learning. It encourages children to develop their observation skills by doing many types of activities. These activities include use of the five senses, kinetic movement, spatial refinement, small and large motor skill concrete knowledge that leads to later abstraction. coordination, and concrete knowledge that leads to later abstraction.
Montessori classrooms provide an atmosphere that is pleasant and attractive to allow children to learn at their own pace and interact with others in a natural and peaceful environment. In the ideal classroom, children would have unfettered access to the outdoors, but this is frequently not possible given modern day space considerations (and cost thereof).
In response, Montessori teachers stock their classrooms with nature shelves, living plants and small pets, or perhaps a window sill garden, allowing children to experience as much of the natural world as possible given modern constraints.
In the elementary, middle, and upper school years, Montessori schools ideally adhere to the three-year age range of pupils to encourage an interactive social and learning environment. This system allows flexibility in learning pace and allowing older children to become teachers by sharing what they have learned.
See also our article on Waldorf Schooling.