The Montessori Philosophy and Practices
Maria Montessori was an inspired teacher working in Italy almost 100 years ago. Her work was well ahead of her time and many facets are now recognised in modern teaching research.
Montessori believed that all children must be given the freedom that is the birthright of every human being. It is this freedom which will eventually give children the self-discipline, self-respect, respect for others and a feeling of satisfaction.
She also believed that education is a gateway to a democratic society, a means of promoting peace and acceptance in the world, and valuing families as the core foundation for such education.
What is the Montessori Method?
The Montessori Method could be described as an attitude, an approach or a philosophy rather than a teaching system or technique. It engenders a great love for and an understanding of each individual child. At PMK this extends to our teachers knowing each individual family in order to respond to their needs and aspirations for their child’s learning. This helps us build strong partnerships between the centre and our children’s families.
Montessori’s method was and is still today, based on the observations of the needs of a child at every stage of their physiological and psychological development. The unique way in which Dr. Montessori viewed the child’s place in both society and family makes her philosophy a valuable asset in today’s world for today’s children. In particular, it aligns perfectly with our New Zealand Early Childhood Curriculum Framework, Te Whāriki.
The objective of the Montessori method is to provide children with the skills they require to develop into free and functionally independent adults, with a clear vision of the world around them and their role in it.
This approach provides guidance to the natural curiosity and energy of the child. Montessori saw children as natural researchers and the role of the teacher to encourage and extend this curiosity and desire to learn.
Montessori believed that parents, like teachers, are children’s guides or facilitators in discovery and encouraged them to recognize the child’s desire to be independent and to experiment.
Montessori respected the abilities of children to make decisions around their learning (again a great fit with Te Whāriki). She encouraged parents and teachers to pay attention to children’s feelings, wishes and opinions. In a Montessori environment, children explore within well understood boundaries and this develops and strengthens self-discipline, independence, confidence, and advanced social skills in children.
The purpose of a Montessori Education
Dr. Montessori felt that the goal of early childhood education should be to cultivate a child’s own natural desire to learn. A truly educated individual continues learning after the hours and years she/he spends in the classroom due to a natural curiosity and love for knowledge which motivates her/him from within. Good teachers provide role models for this at every opportunity as they also learn alongside children. In NZ culture this is called tukana teina.
Te Whariki promotes the development of confident, connected learners and this tenet is clear indeed in a Montessori environment where the main aim of Montessori education is to foster competent, responsible and adaptive citizens who are lifelong learners and problem solvers. The aim of Te Whāriki is to develop confident, connected learners.
Emergent interests vs programmed curriculum
Montessori’s research led her to believe that there are periods of intense fascination for learning a particular characteristic or skill (which she called sensitive periods), such as going up and down steps, putting things in order, counting or reading. It is easier for the child to learn a particular skill during the corresponding sensitive periods than at any other time in their life. Among educators this is often referred to as developmental readiness. The Montessori classroom takes advantage of this fact by allowing the child freedom to select individual activities, which correspond to her/his own periods of interest. This is the essence of Te Whāriki too! Te Whāriki notes that the curriculum emerges in response to children’s interests and needs.
The Montessori Classroom and Outdoors
Montessori believed that learning occurs in an inquiring, co-operative, nurturing atmosphere and both inside and outside the classroom. Children increase their own knowledge through self and teacher initiated experiences. Learning takes place through the senses by interacting with the environment both indoors and outdoors. Children learn by manipulating materials and interacting with others in both learning and play. These meaningful experiences are the foundation for the understanding of ideas, some which may even be somewhat abstract.
The Montessori Method of education considers the individual as a whole, in other words, holistically. The physical, emotional, social, aesthetic, moral/spiritual and cognitive needs and interests are inseparable and equally important. Respect and caring attitudes for oneself, others, the environment and all life are seen as necessary and are promoted in Montessori education. The Montessori Classroom is indeed a child’s world, geared to the size, age, pace and interests of children. It is designed to put the child at ease by giving them freedom in an environment prepared with attractive materials and stimulating activities.
In particular, these materials are arranged on low shelves within easy reach of even the smallest child. The tables and chairs in the classroom are movable, permitting a flexible arrangement for many activities. Children also work on small mats on the floor where they are naturally comfortable yet provide ‘space’ for them to work within, encouraging respect for the space of others and the environment itself.
In the outdoors, the environment is also orderly, challenging and designed to be responsive to children’s interests and needs. It usually includes a garden and opportunities to explore and examine the natural world. Here at PMK, with a garden, a worm farm, green grass, flowers and trees this is an ideal environment for learning outdoors. Along with natural elements PMK has a prepared environment.
The prepared environment will promote:
|Inner Security||Ability to make decisions|
|Sense of order||Sense of independence|
|Respect for the physical environment||Self-Discipline|
|Concentration||Respect for others|
The role of the Teacher
The role of the teacher is to observe the interests and need of the child and to demonstrate the correct use of the materials. Teachers are trained to recognise the child’s individual interests and that special moment when they are intensely focussed. Teachers encourage the child to discover their own mistakes through further manipulation of the self-correcting or self-extending materials. Teachers encourage and scaffold a child who is hesitant and carefully support a child who chooses materials beyond their ability and encourage such risk taking as a means towards learning new things.
Some activities will be introduced to the group while others may need to be introduced individually and some may be explored independently, given the self-correcting nature of many of the materials.
In the initial stages teachers teach the children how to relate to the environment, carefully monitoring them as they tidy up and return materials after use. This is part of respecting the environment and the rights of other children to use materials that are attractively presented and which are ready to use.
The advantages of The Montessori Method
(adapted from the work of E.M. Standing)
- It is based on years of patient observation of children’s nature and interests.
- It has proved itself to have universal application
- It has revealed the child as a lover of work, intellectual work, spontaneously chosen and carried out with enthusiasm.
- It is based on the child’s need to learn by doing – the hand is the chief guide.
- While it offers the child a maximum of spontaneity and choice, it nevertheless provides boundaries within which to work.
- It encourages and develops self-management or self-discipline.
- It is based on a profound respect for the child’s personality.
- The teacher treats each child as an individual, responding to that child’s interests and needs.
- Each child works at their own pace – education is seen as a journey not a race.
- The Montessori Method presents endless opportunities among the children for mutual help, cooperation, collaboration and teamwork; an important attribute in today’s world.
- The child ‘works’ by choice and with support so that their attempt at chosen activities is met with a high level of success.
- Finally, the Montessori Method is holistic, developing the whole personality of the child, and promoting creative thinking, problem solving, and effective social skills.