The Montessori Method of education, developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, is a knowledge-rich, child-centered educational approach. Children learn in a thoughtfully prepared learning environment with a comprehensive curriculum presented in the form of multi-sensory, hands-on materials. It is an approach that values the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive. Here are just a few of the ways in which the Montessori Method is unique:
The learning environment: Just step inside a Montessori classroom to grasp the essence of Montessori education. Beautiful, inviting, and thoughtfully arranged, scientifically-designed learning materials are purposefully arranged and ready for use in an aesthetically appealing environment. Classrooms follow an open floor plan to create a learning environment that encourages discovery and aids in developing the faculty of choice. There are areas for group activity and areas for independent learning—no stifling rows of school desks.
The learning process: A Montessori education allows children to experience the state of “flow” and develop the skill of concentration through uninterrupted blocks of work time, multi-age classrooms and child-directed work. This learning method allows an immense amount of room for independence and self-growth, with an emphasis on developing focus, self-motivation, personal responsibility and engagement.
The educators: The concept that mastery is best achieved through exploration, imitation, repetition, and trial and error is at the core of the Montessori Method. Montessori “guides” work diligently to ensure that their classrooms are prepared to incite learning, fostering a rich learning environment and a collaborative community. Montessori teachers don’t stand at the front of the room and issue instructions. They circulate amongst the students, gently inspiring, guiding, and coaching.
These components are all required to achieve an authentic Montessori experience. But how do you know a Montessori school is really good? Here’s what to look for:
Real materials: Pay close attention to the quality of the materials used in for the furniture and learning materials. Are the tables and shelves solid wood? Are there real plants and animals in the room for the children to care for? Are dishes real ceramic? Are materials displayed on beautiful trays? These elements teach children to respect materials, and engage their interest through beauty. There is a focus on developing practical life skills, and all materials—from glass cookware to flowers—should be real. Children know whether they are engaged in a real, purposeful life activity, or whether they are just playing at adult activity. It makes all the difference to their budding self-esteem to know they can do real things for themselves.
Uninterrupted work period: While this is one of the hallmarks of the Montessori method, too many Montessori schools break up the morning work period with scheduled activities. Ensure that your child’s program isn’t too scheduled. A 3 to 6 classroom should have a full three-hour work period in the morning. A toddler classroom should have a two-hour work period. Young children struggle with transitions. Longer periods of uninterrupted work allow for the child to explore in an unhurried manner, sink deeply into an activity, and develop their capacity to concentrate, which will allow them to take on more and more challenging work.
Multi-age classrooms: An authentic Montessori school combines a full three-year age grouping of 3 to 6 year olds. Splitting out the 5 and 6 year olds into a separate kindergarten classroom is an enormous missed opportunity, and a misunderstanding of why Montessori works so well. It is during the 3rd, “kindergarten year” that all of the early practical life and sensorial work culminates in an explosion of language and math learning. Younger children need to see, and be inspired by, the work that is taking place at this level. Older children need the opportunity to experience leadership, and take pride in how far they have come.