The Montessori Method of education gives your child an appropriate environment to learn, develop and grow. In the early 1900s, Dr. Maria Montessori observed children for years, ultimately creating materials, an environment and teacher training tools to give children what they needed to be a joyful and successful learner.
The main goal of ‘The Method’ is to instill confidence, independence and an understating of how to learn. A child in this environment will soon realize that he or she can learn anything he puts his mind to. They just need the opportunity to practice and master the skill.
When you visit a Montessori classroom, you will see children of different ages working together. This is very important since children learn best when teaching their peers or observing others. Whether you are viewing a toddler, primary or elementary class, you will see that teachers always put different ages together. This allows children to work with their own peers while learning directly or indirectly from those around them.
For example, in the primary classroom, a 3 year-old will be busy at work and overhear a 4 year -old sounding out a word as she learns to read. A 4 year-old will get help from a 5 year-old on an addition problem. 5 year-olds work together while also giving lessons to the younger children in areas that they’ve mastered. These children create a calm, working community where they learn to rely on each other. As each child discovers their strengths and roles within this community, they develop confidence and security that they belong and are important.
Another important aspect of the Montessori classroom is experiencing freedom…with limits. Instead of directly telling a child how to do something, we allow them to discover and master their skills.
A Montessori teacher gives lessons to every child individually, based on their skill level and abilities. She has to find the right moment to present the child with a piece of work. If she presents work too early, the child may become frustrated and not pursue the material. If she waits too late to present the material, it will be too easy and the child may not recognize his or her potential through practice. Instead, the teacher gives a lesson on each material at just the right moment so that the child sees some success immediately but recognizes there is still a lot of practice to be done.
We want your child to have a personal motivation to practice his or her work again and again--giving him some success ensures his repetition until he masters the material. Once material is mastered, the child will remember it forever as it was something he physically achieved instead of simply being told. When asked who taught him the work, we hope his reply is: “No one! I taught myself!”
This is certainly true: the child is the active learner. He is the one who will open doors through practice and mastery. This process cannot happen without the freedom to choose work and practice as long as is needed to master something. When you observe a Montessori classroom you will see children choosing to do their own work, dependent on their skill level and interest. Whether you visit a toddler, primary or elementary environment, the children are free to explore and discover with continual guidance by the adult.
For toddlers, the Montessori Method translates to children freely choosing work from shelves. The work period is not split into areas and times by the teacher; instead, the child sees something he or she wants to engage in and starts working with it. The teacher will follow the child, guiding him to bring it to a table and showing him how to use the material and what can be learned from it.
The teacher allows the child to work with the material as long as he or she wants and reminds him or her to clean up when finished. All of the work in the classroom has an intelligent purpose and engages the child’s sense of purpose and confidence. Throughout the day, the child is learning to care for themselves and their environment while discovering that he or she can achieve big things!
With 18 children in the class (a 1:6 ratio), your child will be engaged socially with children who are his and her age, younger and older. Compare this ratio to the elementary school down the street and there’s your difference—more guidance, more supervision, more teaching, more individuality.
In the primary environment, the Montessori Method challenges the child even more. The child needs to receive a lesson from their teacher before being allowed to work on materials. In this way, the child will use the material appropriately to fully grasp the intelligent purpose in every area.
Younger children start in the area of practical life where they learn to care for themselves and their environment. From learning to get dressed, clean up a spill or arrange flowers in a vase, the child is beautifying and caring for everything around him. And in doing so he or she is confident, secure and happily independent from relying on others to fix his ‘mistakes.’
Soon, children are ready for another area of the classroom method: sensorial.
This area helps students refine their senses and small motor skills. He or she is solidifying his concentration with these complex materials. In both the practical life and sensorial areas, the child is understanding that all-important concept in education: how to learn.
In everything he or she does, the child makes mistakes but also has success. Every time he spills water while pouring, he also sees how much water made it into his cup. It is this success that drives the child to practice again and again. For every material mastered, the child recognizes subconsciously that he achieved each goal through practice. This concept is so important as he or she dives into the other areas of the classroom.
It is difficult to learn to read and write. It is also difficult to learn how to add and subtract. Or, learning the names of all of the countries in South America. But the Montessori child has absolute confidence in learning and mastering these concepts because he or she now knows how to learn.
The child relishes the challenge and enjoys practicing again and again. Throughout the rest of his or her time in the primary classroom, whether he is learning a math concept, learning to read, or figuring out a scientific concept, your child will become an active learner, engaged in fulfilling his or her desire for independence and knowledge.
Dr. Montessori called the elementary curriculum a ‘Cosmic Education’--a comprehensive, holistic and purposeful approach. Cosmic education differs from traditional education as it goes far beyond just the acquisition of knowledge and developmental growth to encompass the development of the whole person.
Dr. Montessori believed that children who are given this type of education have a clearer understanding of the natural world and, thus, themselves. She believed that those children who receive an all-encompassing education in childhood are better prepared to enter adolescence as independent, confident, responsible and emotionally intelligent individuals, balanced in physical, intellectual and social achievements. They are prepared to make responsible decisions and act on them in a responsible way, thereby recognizing limits and giving, asking for, and receiving help, as needed.
Dr. Montessori saw the second plane of development (ages 6 to 12) as a time to open up the universe to the child in the form of the epic story called ‘Great Lessons of Cosmic Education.’ Rather than teaching the curriculum as separate parts, abstractly and disconnected, these Great Lessons provide an all-encompassing, holistic vision of various disciplines combined. The Great Lessons tell of how each particle, substance, species, and/or event has a purpose and a contribution to make in development of all others.
At this point children are working together in small groups and constantly challenging themselves and each other in more abstract concepts. Lessons given by our highly trained Montessori teachers direct the children toward activities which help them to develop reasoning abilities and learn the arts of life. Elementary studies include geography, biology, history, language, mathematics, science, music and art. Exploration of each area is encouraged through field trips—called ‘going out’—away from the classroom to the community, such as the library, planetarium, botanical garden, science center, factory or hospital.
Maria Montessori was born in Chiaravalle, Italy in 1870. She was the first female physician in Italy upon her graduation from medical school in 1896. In 1906, Dr. Montessori gave up both her university chair and her medical practice to work with sixty children in the San Lorenzo district of Rome. This became the first Casa dei Bambini, or ‘Children's House.’ This is where she developed the Montessori Method of education, based upon her scientific observations of these children's ability to absorb knowledge from their surroundings, as well as their tireless interest in manipulating their environment. Every piece of equipment, every exercise, every method Dr. Montessori developed was based on what she observed children to do naturally by themselves, unassisted by adults.
Dr. Montessori opened the Montessori Training Centre in Laren, Netherlands, in 1938, and founded a series of teacher training courses in India in 1939. This training center is called Association Montessori Internationale or AMI, and they continue to train teachers around the world today.
One of their key objectives is “spreading and upholding the pedagogical principles and practice formulated by Dr Maria Montessori, which ensure the independence of the child’s personality through successive stages of growth until he reaches full normal development by means of his own activity.”
Since “Montessori” was never copyrighted, many variations on the Montessori Method exist, including a few having little to do with Montessori theory or materials. It is your duty to explore the different schools in San Diego County and find the right Montessori for your family.
Montessori children are given the trust and respect to make their own choices and judgments. They are given a space to explore their interests at the pace they are comfortable with. This leads to children who have a great self-awareness, high self-esteem and a love of learning and challenges.
Even with only three years of experience, Montessori children grow into confident, capable adults who love to explore and think ‘outside of the box.’ We truly feel that children are capable of amazing things at a younger age than most people consider. We nurture your child’s Inner Teacher and allow them the space and time to explore and discover their wonderful abilities. View our Kindergarten standards vs. public school standards here and see the Montessori difference.
Beyond allowing the child to passionately pursue knowledge at their own pace—something you’ll never see in a public elementary school--Montessori elementary children are given the freedom to work in groups, engage their peers in a social and academic manner and to continually challenge themselves in all areas.
Your Montessori teacher still gives lessons to small groups of children, but she also engages them to seek answers outside of the adults in the classroom. We don’t want children to feel as though they are an empty vessel, waiting for an adult to pour knowledge into. Instead, the child is an active learner, constantly asking questions and being pushed to search for answers within the classroom environment, or (if needed) in the outside community itself.
For example, if your child is learning about black holes and has more questions than the resources in the classroom can provide answers to, he or she will be encouraged to ‘go out’ into the community to find answers. The student may need to use the public library, or even search for a specialist in the field to interview. This gives children confidence to continue asking questions, but also to see how people within the community fit together.
For more information, view our 1st Grade standards vs. public school standards here.
The word “Montessori” is not copyrighted, which means anyone can say they are a Montessori school. But after careful observations of children for years, Dr. Montessori created certain standards for each environment especially created for children. Most of these standards actually resonate with any age group you are observing. For example, all Montessori classrooms should have:
Mixed age groups
- Toddler: 18 months-36 months
- Primary: 3-6 years
- Elementary: 6-12 years (or 6-9 and 9-12)
- Adolescence: 12-14 years
- High School: 14-18 years
An uninterrupted work period
- Toddler: 2 hours in the morning
- Primary: 3 hours in the morning, 2 hours in the afternoon for 4-6 year olds
- Elementary: prolonged work periods in the morning and afternoon
- A Montessori trained head teacher with an assistant in every classroom
- AMI approved materials for each level
- Real, beautiful and clean materials to attract the children
- Intelligent materials to engage the mind and the hands of the child
- Classrooms that are organized, clean and attractive
- Joyful and engaged children with periods of concentration
There is so much that can be done in the home to help your child feel more confident, independent and (most importantly) like a community member. The most basic step is to allow your child access to as many areas as you feel comfortable. Your child should be able to feel confident anywhere in the house: the bathroom, kitchen--even laundry room! You can empower him to feel like an active participant in your home community by allowing him the freedom and power to help you.
View notes from our annual Montessori in the Home Education Night here.