What is a Montessori School?
It’s the most obvious question and the answer is actually very simple. The Montessori philosophy is based on children’s natural developmental needs.
Then it gets more complicated. Children need space and freedom to learn and grow. Montessori schools provide that space and freedom, but in a well-constructed environment that exposes children to different stimuli and materials that encourage them to develop academically, physically, psychologically and emotionally.
Learning is based on the child’s self-motivation to explore and grow, but it’s guided, subtly, by teachers.
There are four important elements to Montessori education:
- Most importantly, children are recognised as individuals. They learn differently to adults and they develop differently from all the children around them. This means that a generic approach just doesn’t work.
- Children’s brains are like sponges, absorbing everything in their environment and learning as they go. Their educational settings should be structured to maximise this process.
- Montessori classes are designed to facilitate the transition from unconscious to conscious learning, which is a very important step in early childhood development.
- Children love to work with purpose, as you’ll know if you’ve ever watched a child absorbed in a practical activity. The pleasure (and the learning) is all in the doing, which is why the Montessori Method provides activities and materials that will encourage children to develop cognitively, physically and emotionally.
Where does the method come from?
From a brilliant woman who distinguished herself by becoming the first women to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School. Dr Maria Montessori was a pioneer in the sorely under-researched field of education for mentally disabled children. She learnt to apply much of what she found to education systems for normally-abled children. Some of the first Montessori schools were opened in a reconstructed slum area in San Lorenzo, Italy. Her system gained an international following as word of her success spread and she was asked to lecture at international venues.
Does the Modern Montessori Method work for all children?
In a word: yes. There is no age group or social class that can’t benefit from the Montessori system. It’s equally effective for all children, no matter what their level of physical and mental development.
The results speak for themselves: children with a healthy level of self-confidence balanced by a good measure of self-discipline. They are independent and self-motivated and always excited to learn new things. The fact that they haven’t been drilled in any prescribed learning methods gives them a unique approach to problem solving.
What sort of freedom are children allowed?
Children learn best in a free environment but free does not mean permissive. Children can roam about the class and play or work with whatever materials grab their fancy. They may talk to other children and they can talk to the teacher. They can’t interfere in other children’s work or distract them from their chosen activities. They can’t indulge in unruly behaviour and they can’t wantonly destroy equipment.
What exactly is the teacher’s role?
Montessori teachers are, essentially, guides. They don’t steer children in a particular direction or force them to work according to an agenda. They show the children what materials are available and how to use them and they give help whenever they are asked.
Teachers are trained observers. They need to see when a child is struggling with some activity and gently guide them in the right direction. They also need to keep an eye on the different developmental levels in the class and ensure that children always have access to activities and materials that will keep them challenged and allow them to keep reaching new goals.
Can Montessori educated children cross over to traditional learning?
Yes they can. Remember that Montessori educated children have self-discipline, self-confidence and a great deal of respect and enthusiasm for learning. They are naturally flexible and adaptable and shouldn’t have much trouble slotting into a traditional classroom.
The no-talking rule may come as something of a shock, though.
Do you, as parents, have to do anything special at home?
It’s not necessary for you to turn your lives upside down in an effort to accommodate Montessori theory and philosophy. However, it will help your child’s development enormously if you practice some of the principles at home. For example, create a dedicated arts and crafts area where your child can work with paint, clay, cardboard, glue and glitter. Ensure that the surface is easily washable and encourage your child to clean up after himself – it’s all about discipline and responsibility, remember.
Try to avoid brain-numbing toys like video games and encourage your child to do fun, practical activities or read, rather than sit in front of the TV for hours at a time.
You will have to invest time in your children if you want to help them reach their full potential.