Alternative Education: Your Montessori Questions Answered

It was over a hundred years ago that Maria Montessori opened her Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) in a low-income district of Rome and began to educate children according to their developmental stage. She had observed that children who are free to interact and choose their own learning path are better, more active learners who really do have a lifelong love of learning.

Who was Maria Montessori?

Even though she was born into privilege, Dr. Montessori was encouraged intellectually and entered a male-only university medical school. She subsequently became the first female medical doctor in Italy. Dr. Montessori added a degree in anthropology to her credits and in 1907, began working with children with learning disabilities. It was here that she developed her understanding that all children are driven by a desire to learn and began to develop the Montessori method of education.

What does a Montessori education look like?

There are a number of components necessary for a school to provide a valid and authentic Montessori education:

  • The program must be structured with multi-age groupings to encourage peer learning. The idea here is that kids learn easily from older kids and older kids feel good when they can teach what they know. It also reinforces learning for older children when they share their knowledge with younger students.
  • The classroom is organized around long, uninterrupted blocks of time for exploring materials, learning, and guided choice of work activity. Each classroom is organized by the teacher to encourage independence, freedom within limits, and a sense of order. The child is free to make use of whatever learning materials and experiences the classroom environment offers during certain time periods. There is little adult intervention and the student is given time to make discoveries on their own.
  • The teacher is available to support and guide as requested by the child. Special Montessori designed learning materials for all stages of sensory and cognitive development are available in the classroom. Teachers match appropriate materials and lessons to the developmental stage, or “window of learning opportunity”, for each individual child.

What?! No textbooks??

Learning activities are designed around hands-on experiences rather than taught from books. Dr. Montessori emphasized that “the hand is the chief teacher of the child.” All materials in the classroom are designed for playful learning and handling, with a huge emphasis on motor skills and sensory experiences. The thinking behind the play is that big concepts like math and science will be retained longer when learned through touching, seeing, weighing, or any other physical experience, than if through rote memorization.

With lack of textbook instruction, also comes a very different kind of teacher. “It’s often hard to spot the teacher in a Montessori classroom. She may be sitting with a preschooler next to a floor mat, arranging colored rectangles from darkest to lightest, or intently observing as a handful of elementary students dissect a leaf,” states the American Montessori Society website. Teachers are trained to demonstrate how learning materials function, to guide a curious child towards particular materials, and to be aware of each individual child’s progress towards their learning goal. She is responsive to what the child needs as his knowledge increases but they are not didactic.

What are some of the known benefits?

Since the 100 or so years that Maria Montessori opened her school, the method has become pervasive. Parents looking for less traditional means of education, for learning paths that are more child-centered, have cited a number of important benefits that come with the Montessori philosophy:

  • Each child is valued as a unique individual. The educational program is designed for different learning styles, paces, and ways to learn. Children are free to advance through the curriculum at their own speed. This is particularly beneficial to gifted children who are rapid learners.
  • Students develop order, concentration, coordination, and independence from an early age. Classroom design, materials, and daily routines support each child’s ability to educate one’s self and to think about what one is learning.
  • Students are part of a close, caring community. The multi-age classroom groupings typically span 3 years, which recreates the family structure. Teachers are mentors and role models for kind and respectful help.
  • Students choose their own focus of learning within parameters set by the teachers. The Montessori philosophy includes the idea that internal satisfaction drives the child’s curiosity and interest and results in joyous learning that is sustainable over a lifetime
  • Students become active seekers of knowledge because they have the freedom and the tools to answer their own curiosities and questions.
  • Students learn progressively through their early years how to analyze their own work, recognizing and correcting their own errors. Self-correction and self-assessment are integral to all classroom activities.

I see Montessori lawn signs... are there standards?

Modern parents often feel confused about what a Montessori education means because there are so many pre-schools under the Montessori banner. Unfortunately, the term “Montessori education” is not protected with patented guidelines and there are many facilities that operate under the banner without enforcing standards – somewhat creating Montessori’s demise.

While schools are free to interpret what Montessori methods and philosophy are exactly, luckily we have The American Montessori Society to keep an eye on the interpretation of Maria Montessori’s vision. Its website offers a database of schools that are accredited representatives of Montessori’s educational methods. It’s a great place to begin learning about the methods and finding Montessori schools in your area.

If you have chosen a school accredited by The American Montessori Society, you can count on the specific benefits associated with the philosophy.

Are you considering educating your kids with the Montessori method? 

Tags : preschool   toddlers   Montessori   

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