If asked, many parents would say they have heard of Montessori. For most, the word “preschool” would probably come to mind. Beyond that, there is often only a vague notion of what a Montessori education truly entails and offers. This makes sense since frankly not much is disseminated to the general public about this comprehensive educational method.
First, A Few Facts. The Montessori Method was developed over a century ago by Dr. Maria Montessori. It is a combination of philosophy, practices, and curriculum that are time-tested and well-respected in the United States and abroad. The method is based on the natural drives, tendencies, and sensitive periods of the developing child and young adult. Montessori programs, from infant through high school, provide strong cognitive and academic experiences while adhering to the basic principles of respecting the innate abilities and qualities of the child, and fostering independence, critical thinking skills, and social awareness.
Philosophy Basics. Montessori views education as a life-long process beginning at birth and extending into adulthood. It views the role of education as a preparation for life and, on a grander scale, as a means to a more peaceful, innovative, and prosperous society and world. It views the role of the adult in the education process as that of an assistant, a guide to the natural development of the human being. It views the child as a whole human being, born into this world well-equipped with the motivation and ability to learn and grow. If you have ever watched an infant learn to crawl, pull themselves up, and walk, then you have witnessed first-hand the persistence, ingenuity, and courage we are all born with as well as the pure joy that comes from achievement through effort. A Montessori education nurtures this inner drive to advance, assert, and extend oneself physically, socially, and cognitively.
Key Practices. There are many elements that comprise a Montessori education. Here are just a few hallmarks and benefits.
Montessori provides mixed-aged classrooms with three-year age spans. The benefits? Strong relationships are formed between the student, teacher, family, and class. Younger students observe the interactions and work of older students and are motivated towards personal and academic challenges. Older students mentor younger students, solidifying understanding of concepts and developing awareness of their ability to contribute and help others.
The daily schedule uses an open-class work cycle format, preferably three hours per session. During this time, students choose lessons independently and work either individually, with peers, and/or with a teacher. The benefits? Learning is maximized through daily opportunities for in-depth study. Students master concepts at their own pace. Students routinely exercise decision-making, time-management, leadership, and cooperative skills. Students develop interests, concentration, self-direction, and self-discipline. Students take ownership of their education.
Montessori teachers monitor progress through observation. The benefits? The teacher develops a comprehensive view of each child’s abilities and progress, their needs, and their unique social and work styles, skills, and habits. The teacher uses this knowledge as a guide for lesson presentations, needed support, and additional challenges for each individual student.
Curriculum Foundation. Montessori curriculum is sequential, reality-based, and integrated. It represents all academic areas including the arts and physical education. It also includes lessons in practical living and social skills. The approach is hands-on. Students, from infant through high school, learn by doing. The work allows for concrete exploration and experience with abstract ideas. Students master concepts at their own pace and then use this knowledge as a solid foundation for greater challenges. The work is purposeful with real-life applications. Creativity is nurtured by offering simple, uncluttered representations of concepts and processes, and giving the child the freedom to innovate.
Result. Thoughtful, engaged, confident, self-disciplined, responsible, creative, resourceful, happy students. Children who love school. Children who love to learn. A Montessori education is designed to help each person achieve their maximum potential so they can function fully in their lives, and become positive, active members of their family and community. It allows the student to develop understanding of core academia. It allows the child to exercise everything from higher-order thinking to social graces, and to develop awareness of their responsibility for themselves and to others. Much like the child learning to walk, the Montessori student reaches, works, persists, and reaps the satisfaction of achievement. In this process, they build resilience, self-confidence, trust, and empathy, and retain their innate love of learning. For more information, Montessori Today by Paula Polk Lillard is a good introductory read, or simply Google “famous people who attended Montessori schools” and get their perspectives on Montessori. The creators of Google is a good place to start.