"I have studied the child. I have taken what the child has given me and expressed it and that is what is called the Montessori method."
Dr. Maria Montessori
The Montessori approach offers a broad vision of education as an aid to life. It is designed to help children with their task of inner construction as they grow from childhood to maturity. It succeeds because it draws its principles from the natural development of the child. Its flexibility provides a matrix within which each individual child's inner directives freely guide the child toward wholesome growth.
Montessori classrooms provide a prepared environment where children are free to respond to their natural tendency to work. The children's innate passion for learning is encouraged by giving them opportunities to engage in spontaneous, purposeful activities with the guidance of a trained adult. Through their work, the children develop concentration and joyful self-discipline. Within a framework of order, the children progress at their own pace and rhythm, according to their individual capabilities.
The transformation of children from birth to adulthood occurs through a series of developmental planes. Montessori practice changes in scope and manner to embrace the child's changing characteristics and interests.
The first plane of development occurs from birth to age six. At this stage, children are sensorial explorers, constructing their intellects by absorbing every aspect of their environment, their language and their culture.
From age 6 to 12, children become conceptual explorers. They develop their powers of abstraction and imagination, and apply their knowledge to discover and expand their worlds further.
The years between 12 and 18 see the children become humanistic explorers, seeking to understand their place in society and their opportunity to contribute to it.
From 18 to 24, as young adults, they become specialised explorers, seeking a niche from which to contribute to universal dialogue.
The Prepared Environment
Montessori classrooms provide a prepared environment where children are free to respond to their natural tendency to work. The prepared environment offers the essential elements for optimal development. The key components comprise the children, teacher and physical surroundings including the specifically designed Montessori educational material.
Characteristics of the prepared environment include:
Beauty, order, reality, simplicity and accessibility.
Children must be given freedom to work and move around within suitable guidelines that enable them to act as part of a social group. Children should be provided with specifically designed materials which help them to explore their world and enable them to develop essential cognitive skills. Mixed age groups (eg. three to six, six to nine, nine to twelve) encourage all children to develop their personalities socially and intellectually at their own pace. "Beyond the more obvious reasons why it is sensible to group the ages three by three, such as the little ones learn from the older children and the older ones learn by teaching the younger, every child can work at his own pace and rhythm, eliminating the bane of competition, there is the matter of order and discipline easily maintained even in very large classes with only one adult in charge. This is due to the sophisticated balance between liberty and discipline prevalent in Montessori classrooms, established at the very inception of a class. Children who have acquired the fine art of working freely in a structured environment, joyfully assume responsibility for upholding this structure, contributing to the cohesion of their social unit." There are prepared environments for children at each successive developmental plane. These environments allow children to take responsibility for their own education, giving them the opportunity to become human beings able to function independently and hence interdependently.
The Montessori Teacher
The role of a Montessori teacher is that of an observer whose ultimate goal is to intervene less and less as the child develops. The teacher creates an atmosphere of calm, order and joy in the classroom and is there to help and encourage the children in all their efforts, allowing them to develop self-confidence and inner discipline. With the younger students at each level, the teacher is more active, demonstrating the use of materials and presenting activities based on an assessment of the child's requirements. Knowing how to observe constructively and when, and how much, to intervene, is one of the most important talents the Montessori teacher acquires during a rigorous course of training at AMI training centres throughout the world.
Reprinted with the permission of the Association Montessori Internationale. © 2008: Association Montessori Internationale