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Introduction to Montessori

Montessori is a child-centric approach to learning. It focuses on hands-on learning as well as activities that are directed by the children themselves. Scientifically speaking, this method is based on the developmental stages of children from the time they're born to the time they become adults. It is designed to nurture and support the interests and needs of children by giving them learning experiences that are appropriate to their current developmental stage. 

Any Montessori classroom must be beautifully crafted in order to make it a suitable environment to meet the needs of children. As a teacher (or parent) your role within this environment is to observe the children and guide them as they embark on their own developmental journey. The focus of this method is for children to lead their own learning experience instead of the teachers imposing on them what they "must" learn. Another important role of a Montessori teacher is to present activities to the children in a classroom. In doing this, the children learn how to perform the activities by themselves and have the freedom to choose which activities they want to do in the time they're given. 

The beauty of Montessori classrooms is that the children are allowed to choose independently, they're given the freedom to move around the room, and they are gently guided in their tasks, which allows them to acquire a love of learning. Children can work on their own or they can work in small groups. Either way, they make use of the educational materials in the Montessori classroom. What's incredible about these materials is that they are specifically designed so that children learn one concept or skill at a time. They also have a self-correcting quality which allows the children to explore the outcomes of their choices on their own and at their own individual pace. 

All Montessori materials in the classroom are designed to match the interests of different kinds of children with the five major curriculum areas: Mathematics, Language, Practical Life, Culture, and Sensorial. In some classrooms, they also include a Music and Arts area which many children also find interesting. Since children are given the opportunity to have experiences based on their interests, they learn and develop in the most relevant areas of knowledge. The skills they acquire from their Montessori experiences assist with their emotional, physical, cognitive, and social development. Essentially, the materials in a Montessori classroom teach children how to work together, self-correct, and solve problems. 

Although Montessori classrooms contain only Montessori materials, the great thing about this method is that you can also apply it in your own home. As a parent, you can come up with your own materials and prepare a room in your home to serve as your child's personal "Montessori classroom." As long as you learn the basic principles behind Montessori, you will have a better idea of what you need to prepare for your child's learning environment. We will be learning more about this later on. Now, let's learn more about the Montessori method and how it began. 

 

MONTESSORI HISTORY AND ESSENCE 

“I observed little children; I sensed their needs, I tried to fulfill them; they call that the Montessori Method.” 

~Maria Montessori 

Montessori is a unique educational system that originated in the late 1800s through the work of medical doctor and physician Maria Montessori, a passionate observer and learner of psychology. Dr. Montessori researched and observed children with learning disabilities, specifically autism, and subsequently came up with a universal set of principles and teaching methods which could be applied to all children, to expand and enhance self-development. This is great news for parents nowadays, because it means that they can implement these teachings and practices at home to encourage the best development for their children. 

Dr. Montessori was not only a medical doctor and physician but she was also a scientist and experimental psychologist. When she opened the first Children’s Home, Maria Montessori found that, despite being chaotic and disruptive at first, the children there soon became calm and peaceful and were able to concentrate for long periods of time. They also developed a sense of order and care for their environment, all of which arose from their interest in working with different puzzles, learning how to prepare meals properly, and engaging in the maintenance of their environment and its orderliness. 

Although a traditional Montessori education in a school environment would be ideal, it is not a necessity. All the exercises and knowledge in this book are based on carefully conducted research and first-hand experience, so you can feel confident applying the processes with your child. 

Originally the Montessori method was created for younger children, specifically ages three to five. However, overtime this method was adapted for adolescents also. 

Since Montessori herself lived through two world wars, an educational approach that promotes peace and social justice became an integral part of the system, and has remained as such throughout the years. Combined with this is an emphasis on the importance of culture and community. 

In 1929, the Association Montessori Internationale was created to ensure the method’s philosophy and intentions were respected throughout time. 

Before going into the details and exploring some of these topics further, let’s look at some of the benefits of Montessori. 

 

The Encouragement of Cooperative Play  

Montessori encourages cooperative play through the belief that the teacher or parent should act more as a guide than a boss. The teacher or you as a parent do not dominate or ‘run’ activities in a way which takes away from a child’s autonomy. This helps your child to learn how to explore, question, and share with other children in ways rooted in community and cooperation. 

 

The Natural Acquisition of Self-Discipline  

It is easier for children to learn self-discipline within a Montessori framework as they are allowed to choose their own activities and for how long they perform them. There are, of course, ground rules and a basic structure, but children are given freedom for their own individual learning which ultimately leads to self-control, concentration, and inspiration.

 

A Highly-Individualized System  

Children are allowed to explore activities and ideas at their own pace, which naturally provides time and space for them to attempt different, more challenging areas of learning. This, in turn, increases self-development and improves their learning experience, since when provided choice children are more inclined to push themselves and strive for greatness. In other forms of education, there is a tendency for the teacher or someone in a position of power to push the child. This, unfortunately, creates stress and a natural desire to rebel, as it takes the power away from the child. Providing frameworks for individualism and a personal learning journey is, therefore, a key aspect to Montessori educational success. 

This method also takes into account children who work at a slower pace, allowing them to slow down and take the time they need to absorb new concepts. 

 

A Child-Centered Approach  

As we have seen so far, the Montessori method revolves primarily around the child. Unlike in mainstream education where there are established rules that the teachers and principal have to abide by, in Montessori learning and development are 100% child-centric. Children are not in any way pressured to achieve certain grades, since there is no need to appear in a favorable light to any school board. Curriculum and activities are centered around the child’s specific needs and requirements, not around those of the school or teachers.

 

The Age Range and Peer Mentorship  

This may not apply to you directly, but in traditional Montessori education mentoring can come from other students. Young children will often be placed in groups with older ones for this purpose. It is healthy and beneficial to allow children of different ages and development levels to interact, as this is one of the key elements to a young child’s development. 

 

The Teaching of Order  

The Montessori method involves teaching your children order. In other words, all activities and objects have a precise location and ‘way’, such as specific place on a shelf, cupboard, or any other physical place. This is highly effective when it comes to providing your child with structure and can help your them with any issues of self-discipline they may be struggling with. An orderly environment creates an orderly inner world, and although the Montessori method encourages great freedom and creativity, order is essential to thrive in the world. 

 

“Hands-On Learning”   

One of the main benefits of Montessori is its hands-on approach to learning. All the activities for learning language, math, and practical life lessons great emphasize the importance of a child’s freedom to learn and be creative. This is most likely one of the key reasons why Montessori is so successful. Hands-on learning enables greater practicality and concrete learning and activities, as opposed to abstract learning (although this is not omitted completely). Hands-on learning also means that children are discouraged from interrupting each other during activity time until the task is properly mastered, which increases patience, attention to detail, and focus. 

 

The Facilitation of Learning by the Teacher (or Parent)  

Another key point to be aware of is that Montessori teachers or parents who wish to use the Montessori method are only guides. You obviously hold a natural position of authority due to the adult-child dynamic, but this is all fundamentally about the child’s journey. You may take the lead to ensure directions and certain rules are followed, but you do not influence them in a way which may be detrimental to their learning processes. The goal in Montessori is for yourself or a teacher to remain as unobtrusive as possible. 

 

 

The Importance of Creativity  

Finally, the importance of creativity and creative or artistic expression is fundamental to the success of Montessori. Creative expression is all about the process—the journey. All the Montessori frameworks enable creativity to be a powerful channel for a child to develop and learn successfully. Joy and passion are two words which are also highly valued in Montessori learning, so any activity which is seen as fun or enjoyable by the child will naturally enhance their willingness to engage.  

Montessori also provides children with cultural topics presented in creative ways. This allows them to expand their thinking and broaden their perceptions about the world. 

It should be evident by now that choice is a key feature of the Montessori approach. Your child is presented with a wide range of activities and areas to choose from and they can engage with each for as little or much as they wish. The main role you play is that of a guide and observer to make sure the child keeps within a set structure to enhance their learning experience. 

 

HOW MONTESSORI WORKS 

Regardless of the age range of any given Montessori class, they all operate on the principle of "freedom within limits." As such, Montessori teachers set ground rules based on the age group of the children they in their class. All of these ground rules are also based on the core beliefs of the Montessori method, namely respect for the environment and for each other. 

In Montessori, children have the freedom to work with the materials and activities of their own choosing and at their own pace. They have the choice to work with other children or to work by themselves. Then the teachers observe the children as they move around the classroom watching out for those who need guidance when working with a new activity. In some cases, the teachers may also try to determine whether they can introduce the children to new materials or activities. 

But how exactly does Montessori work? What makes it different from other educational or learning approaches? These are some important questions that you may want ask as a parent who is considering setting their child on the Montessori path. 

Since Montessori encourages active learning that's self-directed, it not only benefits children academically. It also builds their social and real-life skills, both of which are essential to their overall growth and development. Whether you have a young toddler or an older child, Montessori will work wonders on them as they learn through the materials and activities, they've chosen for themselves. 

Montessori works so well because it approaches children in the best way possible for them. Have you ever watched your child while they’re playing? As long as children are having fun, they become completely engrossed in the activities they are doing. And this is a lot more evident in children who choose their own toys or activities. It's also very common to see children move from one activity to another as they play—this is what keeps them engaged in what they're doing. And as children play, they are also learning essential life skills and concepts without anyone teaching them. 

In this sense, the Montessori method is a lot like learning through play. Children are brought into a prepared environment that's full of activities and materials at their disposal. They are guided and observed by their teachers throughout the time they spend in the Montessori classroom. If they ever need help or guidance, their teachers are always around to introduce activities and the proper use of materials to them. 

Here are more reasons why Montessori differs from other educational approaches and why it's so effective: 

Montessori isn't just a trend  

When it comes to education, a lot of educators tend to jump from one trend to another. Schools and districts often spend a huge chunk of their budgets on new learning programs only to discover that there are better programs out there. In this sense, they are much like “fashionistas" who purchase clothes and accessories according to the trends. 

This is not the case with Montessori schools. Ever since Maria Montessori established this learning approach over a century ago, even the most modern Montessori schools retain its tools and philosophy. Unlike other learning approaches, Montessori schools don't make frequent changes between programs and curricula because there's simply no need to. Whether you apply the Montessori method to public or private schools, its effectiveness has been proved time and time again. 

 

Montessori encourages and fosters independence  

Every single item and activity in a Montessori classroom are aimed at independence. From the way teachers prepare the environment to how they allow the children to explore it, it's all about independence. If you try to observe a Montessori class in action, let's say a class with three to five-year-old children, you will see some kids washing dishes, folding clothes, sweeping the floor, and doing other real-life activities which their parents normally do for them. Then you will see other children working with materials that are more academic in nature, those that prepare them for the next level in their education. 

Just seeing these children working independently without having to ask for help from their teachers, who are observing them, is amazing. And if, as a parent, you try to apply the same method in your own home, you will have front-row seats to this independence developing in your own child. 

 

Montessori is self-correcting  

As mentioned before, the Montessori materials are designed to be self-correcting. This means that teachers don't have to teach children what to do or tell them that what they're doing is wrong. This is because the materials themselves allow the children to identify their own mistakes. This aspect helps build their confidence as they don't have to be constantly exposed to adults telling them that they've made mistakes. 

The more independent children are allowed to be, the more they start realizing their own abilities and intelligence. This, in turn, inspires them to keep doing things on their own. 

Montessori has the potential to empower children, raise their self-esteem, and let them see for themselves them how capable they are in a world where they can feel very small at times. Although this doesn't happen overnight, watching the whole process of your child learning how to become independent is a wonderful experience in itself. 

 

Montessori helps children understand the "why" behind concepts  

Another reason that sets Montessori apart from other learning approaches is that it helps children understand why things happen. In other words, they are able to understand concepts and skills more profoundly as they become aware of the reasons behind them. Unlike memorization which a lot of programs encourage, Montessori focuses on comprehension as they work with the different materials and activities prepared for them. 

 

Montessori makes learning fun!

Whether the child is interested in reading, numbers, animals, shapes, colors, or music, there is something in the Montessori classroom for every little learner. Hands-on activities are extremely interesting for children and the more they practice, the more they gain proficiency in the concepts and skills they're trying to learn. 

 

THINGS TO BE MINDFUL OF! 

While the Montessori method is one of the best educational systems around today, it is not perfect. As with any system, it is bound to have weak points that you have to be mindful of. 

The main cause for criticism is the fact that the structural approach and framework for learning is too free. In other words, that there should be more structure. 

This kind of freedom is, of course, a bit of a double-edged sword. Just as it can allow for greater self-expression and willingness to learn and try new activities, it can also allow for the child to ‘do nothing,’ engage in ‘excessive play,’ and ‘uncontrolled creative expression.’ As a parent or teacher, you can overcome this particular issue with awareness and more guidance of your child. 

You may also want to adapt or expand Montessori teachings by integrating some elements from traditional schooling, such as assigning homework. Homework is not usually given by Montessori teachers, so including this may help to provide more structure and increased discipline. This should, however, be done in a way that doesn’t compromise the essence of Montessori. Meaning that even though homework is included in the curriculum, the teacher or parent should still stay away from traditional competitive methods of achievement, such as tests, grades, and exams. 

In this way, individual progress and development is still the number one priority. 

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