The Montessori method is based on the work of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator. Through her direct observation of children, Dr. Montessori developed classroom and instructional practices that promote the optimal academic and social development of the child. Key features of the Montessori method include independent choice, multi-age grouping, the prepared environment, and the Montessori materials.
The Montessori Classroom
The Montessori classroom is a carefully prepared environment designed to offer students a variety of works in the curricular areas of language arts, mathematics, practical life, cultural and physical geography, history, astronomy, chemistry, botany, physics, zoology, sensorial, art, music and movement.
Students are free to choose their own work as long as they are respectful of the materials, the other students, and the classroom environment. Just as infants go through periods of activity focused on learning how to walk, for example, Dr. Montessori observed that older children also have a need to focus on areas of their own development, such as developing their senses or writing or mathematics. Independent choice allows children to direct their work according to their own inner development timetables or sensitive periods. They can spend as much or as little time as they need to master a material before they move on to something else. This freedom to choose also allows children to develop their powers of concentration and self-discipline, as their work activities are not interrupted or controlled by the teacher. They work out of internal motivation and self-satisfaction rather than learning to depend upon external motivations.
Multi-age groupings are an important feature of a Montessori classroom. They permit the child and teacher to develop a three-year relationship and allow a full three years for the children to complete the curriculum at their own pace. Additionally, the older children model appropriate behavior for the younger children and provide a sense of the excitement of the work ahead, such as the development of writing or reading. This creates a positive learning community rather than an atmosphere of competition among the children.
The Montessori materials are constructed to be attractive to children so that they will be chosen freely. They are designed with control of error so that the children will discover and correct their own mistakes, thus, making mistakes becomes a normal part of learning something new rather than an opportunity for embarrassment or correction by others.
The Montessori Teacher
The role of the Montessori teacher is to create and maintain a beautiful environment that meets the needs of the children in the class. The teacher constantly observes the development and work of the children to discover the children’s inner needs. Through these careful observations the teacher anticipates the needs of each individual child and creates a prepared environment that contains an appropriate selection of materials to meet each child’s needs. In this way, each child’s inner needs guide the presentation of the materials and lessons rather than the teacher directing all of the children through the materials and lessons at the same time on a predetermined schedule. The Montessori teacher may present lessons or demonstrations to the entire class, small groups, or individual children. The Montessori teacher models and guides the development of appropriate social behaviors. The Montessori teacher maintains an atmosphere of respect for the work of the children by minimizing interruptions of the work period.
Montessori classrooms are wonderful places for children and adults alike. The universe is introduced to the children as an exciting and interesting place and they are invited to learn all about it and their place in it. The atmosphere of respect for the children’s work and lack of competition among the children foster positive attitudes toward academic work and intellectual development. A Montessori classroom provides an environment that truly encourages children to become lifelong learners. To learn more please see the links below or the recommended reading list.
Montessori Today: A Comprehensive Approach to Education From Birth to Young Adulthood by Paula Polk Lillard. [Available at ICPL]
Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard. [Available at CPL]
For books about the Montessori Method at the Iowa City Public Library click here.