WHAT IS MONTESSORI?
MARIA MONTESSORI: THE WOMAN, THE EDUCATOR.
Maria Montessori, born in 1870, was the first woman granted a medical degree by an Italian university. At the age of 28, she was asked to evaluate the requirements of a group of “special needs” children. Using the work of Seguin and Itard in France, Montessori developed specialized materials and techniques which assisted these children and enabled them to develop in areas previously considered to be beyond their capabilities. The children’s great triumph came when they took state examinations and passed. Montessori concluded that if these special children could benefit so greatly from her modified materials and teaching methods, then surely a re-evaluation of the education system was in order.
Montessori’s life work began in 1907, with a group of disadvantaged children for whom she opened the famous Casa Del Bambini, or Children’s House. She found through her work that children have a remarkable, almost effortless ability to absorb knowledge from their surroundings. Children teach themselves. This simple and profound truth inspired Montessori’s lifelong pursuit of educational reform, curriculum development, methodology, psychology, teaching and teacher training – all based on her dedication to further the self-creating process of the child.
Dr. Montessori died in 1952, leaving behind her a legacy of schools worldwide. These schools focus on the individual development of the child; the peaceful unfolding of self in a prepared classroom environment. “Montessori is not interested in accelerating mental growth but in helping each child to fulfill his potential. The way to facilitate the fastest possible attainment of this goal is to help the child follow his\her own inner clock of development. The adult acts as a catalyst, not as a creator, in the child’s development of himself.
THE MONTESSORI TEACHER
The properly trained Montessori teacher is a child advocate. With careful observation, the teacher responds to the essential needs of the children. A child may repeat a certain activity over and over, reinforcing knowledge of the material. The teacher knows when to intervene so that concentration is never interrupted. The child’s subconscious workcycle is respected and teacher-scheduled time is kept to a minimum so that the child’s creative choice is given first priority.
THE PREPARED ENVIRONMENT
“The objects surrounding the child should look solid and attractive to him and ‘the house of the child’ should be lovely and pleasant to him in all its particulars. It is almost possible to say that there is a mathematical relationship between the beauty of his surrounding and the activity of the child. He will make discoveries rather more voluntarily in a gracious setting than in an ugly one.” (Maria Montessori)
The Montessori classroom is a “living room” for children. The room invites activity. Independence is shaped by the clear availability and self correction of the materials.
When a child enters the Montessori the class at 2 1/2 to 3 years old, the areas and aspect of the Montessori classroom called practical life may be considered the link to the child’s home environment and thus an extension of the child’s developmental process. The child spontaneously and naturally seeks order and independence through movement and purposeful activity. The practical life materials involve children in precise movements, allowing them to concentrate, to work at their own pace uninterrupted, to complete their work, and to gain internal satisfaction. At 3, children are more interested in the scrubbing motion of washing a table than they are in getting the table clean, but that clean table will also be a source of pride in accomplishment to a child who has been allowed to work to his own satisfaction at the task.
Practical life materials also fulfil specific purposes in the real world for children: they learn to button their shirts, tie their shoes, wash their hands, free from adult help. The child also cares for to beauty of the environment: polishing wood, scrubbing a chair, dusting a shelf. The child size materials beckon to the child, allowing him to grow more and more independent. He chooses his work as his needs unfold. In addition, practical life centres the child in an atmosphere where social graces are the mainstays of the environment. A child is treated with respect and is, therefore, respectful.
Children live in a world of the senses. In order to continue their creative task, children need to highlight impressions they have already received. Through sight, touch, sound, taste and smell, the sensorial materials throw a spotlight on reality. For example, the concepts of long and short are derived from the red rods of varying lengths. Language is clarified and vocabulary sharpened. Because these rods are rendered in unit lengths from one to ten, they also provide a basis for mathematical gradation. The concepts of rough and smooth are experienced by touching rough sandpaper and smooth, polished wood. Sensorial materials are used for clarification of large, small, heavy, light, thick and thin, loud and soft, high and low, hot and cold, colours, tastes, smells and for plane and solid geometric forms. The sensorial material is really a key to the world and is one of the basis for abstraction.
The Montessori approach to math is special for many reasons. All operations emerge from the concrete manipulation of “materialized abstractions” such as rods, beads, spindles, cubes, cards and counters, etc. The children do not merely learn to count, they are also able to visualize the whole structure of our numeration system and to perform operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division with an overview in mind. Children retain better any information which they are able to conclude on their own.
Reading and writing
Reading and writing are the keys which can uncover, conserve and synthesize knowledge. Using the moveable alphabet and sandpaper letters, young children are able to effortlessly link sounds, symbols, their shapes, and their written information. We begin with a phonetic approach to the alphabet which enables the child to experience success at reading as soon as a few fundamental sounds are learned and linked. Later, exceptions, grammar, storytelling and gaining meaning from context are introduced.
As the children improve their reading of words, they want to know the names of things. The classroom is filled with pictures bearing the names of animals, plants, geometric figures, countries, and land forms, for example. From the very beginning, reading and writing are tied to culture. The mastery of skills is propelled by interest and love of the environment.
Art and Music
Art and music exercises are introduced into the environment. Various media are available for art. The more experiences the child is given in art, the more he is able to express himself. This also applies to music. The bells, which are used for matching, grading and eventually for composing tunes provide the children with a wonderful opportunity to grow in this area. Group singing provide an opportunity for the children to listen to themselves and each other, thus training their ear for music and providing relaxation and fun.
History, Geography and Biology
“The gifts of nature are the most satisfying toys of the child” (Montessori)
The materials in these areas give the child a certain sense of where he belongs in this world on living things. The stories of the world around them are precious and fascinating to young children. They want to know how to live in cooperation with the land and to live without thought of one being less precious than another. It makes perfect sense to them that cooperation between all that lives is of utmost importance – they simply want to know how they can best help. The materials instill and nurture a wonder and deep respect for this marvellous world.
“By offering the child the story of the universe, we give him something a thousand times more infinite and mysterious to reconstruct with his imagination, a drama no fable can reveal.”(Montessori)
The basic principle in the Montessori philosophy of education is that “each child carries within him the potentialities of the man he can become.” In order to develop his physical, intellectual and emotional powers to the fullest, he must have freedom – freedom to be achieved through order and self discipline. Some parents have been overly impressed by the academic success of Montessori training, expecting their children to read, write and calculate at an unusually early age. Although we encourage the children to reach for their own potentials, we do not pressure for academic success. One kind of growth is not singled out at the expense of another, but rather many interrelated ways are provided to help the child develop his/her individual abilities. The Montessori goal is for the child to be a responsible, secure, balanced human being who thinks for himself and who has discovered the joys of self education.