The Montessori method is a child-centered, alternative educational method based on the child development theories originated by Italian educator Maria Montessori (1870–1952) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The first Montessori school in San Lorenzo, Italy, opened its doors in 1907. This education system celebrated its centenary in 2007.
Primarily applied in pre-school and elementary school settings (and occasionally in infant, toddler, middle school, and high school), its method of education is characterised by emphasising self-directed activity, on the part of the child, and clinical observation, on the part of the teacher (often called a director, directress, or guide) — to stress the importance of adapting the child’s learning environment to his or her development level, and the role of physical activity in the child’s absorbing abstract concepts and learning practical skills. Auto-didactic (self-correcting) equipment is used for introducing and learning concepts, and reading is taught via phonics and whole language, the comparative benefits of which are presently being recognised.
"From the moment the child enters the classroom, each step in his education is seen as a progressive building block, ultimately forming the whole person, in the emergence from childhood to adult. All focus is on the needs of the child." Dr. Maria Montessori
One distinguishing feature of the Montessori method, at the pre-school age, is that children direct their own learning, choosing tasks from among the sections of a well-structured and stocked classroom, the curriculum including Practical Life (materials that help with practical and often daily activities, which include the refinement of fine and gross motor skills), Sensorial (senses and brain), Language, Mathematics, Geography, Science and Art.
The teacher’s role is to introduce children to materials, and then remain a 'silent presence' in the classroom. Montessori schools pride themselves on seeing and meeting the student’s personality and intellectual needs, rather than viewing them as part of a classroom process. The students are encouraged to teach and to help each other.
The Educational Philosophy of Maria Montessori (1870 - 1952)
At the turn of the century, Maria Montessori, a young physician in Rome, Italy, became interested in the education of young children. After many years of observation and working with young children, Dr. Montessori's philosophy and methods became a matter of tremendous interest among educators throughout the world.
The Montessori method is characterised by three distinguishing factors:
- A meticulously prepared environment, prepared to be aesthetically intriguing to the young child, calling to his or her needs to learn about, and become an independently functioning person in his or her world.
- The quietly-supportive role of the teacher, who makes himself or herself available to each child as needed, and presents new materials.
- The highest degree of respect for the child. Within the prepared environment, the children are presented with a variety of specially designed materials which address the particular stages of mental, physical and social development.
It is a method which possesses a certain order, and allows children to proceed at their own pace, according to each child's capacities, in a non-competitive atmosphere. Understanding the necessity for the acquisition of a basic skill before using it in a learning situation is imperative. Dr. Montessori said "Never let a child risk failure, until he has a reasonable chance for success." Through exposure to physical and mental order, children acquire the inner discipline necessary for them to be able to persist in their chosen tasks.
Montessori classes are mixed age groups, namely: 18 mths-3 years, 3-6 years,6-9 years and 9-12 years. In each mixed age group the younger children learn indirectly from the older children by observing them and the older children consolidate and confirm their knowledge by 'teaching' the young ones. The best teacher in the class is an older child! In this environment each individual child works to the best of their ability, seldom comparing themselves to others. Children learn and progress at their own pace so that fast learners are not held back, and slower learners are not frustrated by their inability to keep up.
Through this philosophy, the Montessori method introduces children to the joy of learning, wherein they move themselves through their learning with confidence and success.