The Montessori Approach to Education
At all levels, following the Child....
The Montessori "method" is actually a philosophy of education. That philosophy emphasizes that education should go far beyond the mere acquisition of knowledge, and instead be a practical aid to life.
Developed in the early 1900's by Maria Montessori, a physician, the approach is one that recognizes the important impact a child's physiological and neurological development has on learning; it values and nurtures the child's natural curiosity, interests and readiness for learning. The Montessori way of teaching recognizes each child's individual style, pace and approach toward learning.
Montessori offers a distinct and unique alternative to other school programs, both public and private. Perhaps the most visible difference is that the Montessori classroom consists of students in a three-year age span. That is, children age 3 through 6 learn together in a primary classroom, with the older children extending their day two to three hours beyond the noontime dismissal of the three and four year olds. Children age 6 through 10 learn together in the Elementary class.
Also clearly different in the Montessori classroom are the unique materials used to illustrate and facilitate the understanding of abstract concepts and principles. At all levels, these materials offer a concrete approach to learning, from which, after repeated usage, the child is able to abstract a quality or concept. The materials are also sensorial, providing a variety of "pathways" through which a child may learn. For example, children in the primary program may repeatedly touch letters cut out of sandpaper to "get a feel" for how to shape or recognize the letter in writing. The Montessori classroom is also a "prepared environment", one that is adapted to child's physical and cognitive needs as well as his/her natural interests. The classroom, and all that is in it, bends to the child's needs, rather than requiring the child to adapt to the physical environment.
The role of the Montessori teacher also varies from that of a teacher in a more traditional setting. Rather than being strictly an instructor, or a conduit of information, the Montessori teacher is primarily an active observer of the classroom. He or she watches the students carefully as they approach their work, intervening when a child is "stuck" or seems ready to move onto new material or more challenging work. The Montessori teacher is able to provide direction and guidance to each child on an individualized basis, enabling each student to work at his or her own pace. Because of the mixed age grouping, the teacher also shares his or her role as educator with the older children in the classroom. The older students help the younger ones with materials and work that they have already mastered. This process, in turn, helps the older children solidify their own knowledge, as the repetition reinforces the learning process.
The Montessori curriculum, across all ages, is an inter-disciplinary course that weaves together the study of language, math, science, geography, history, art and music. Although some topics may be singled out for "specialized instruction", the students are encouraged to approach their work with a broad stroke, and study the many facets any one topic may present. For instance, the study of Egypt will involve not a simple geography lesson, but will be developed into a lesson on history, art, science, literature, language, architecture, etc. In all, the Montessori curriculum is designed to challenge students to integrate and synthesize information, identify and analyze problems, and develop inquiry and problem-solving skills. In the process, the students not only become well-educated, but also experience a genuine joy in learning.
The primary objective of a Montessori education is to enable the child to become an independent, creative and self-confident thinker. The classroom is designed to cultivate the child's own natural curiosity and love for knowledge. It is also a place where students learn respect for the rights of others, and learn to make choices that reflect not only a healthy self-confidence, but also a social conscience.