Montessori is a method of teaching and learning developed by Dr. Mari Montessori in 1907. Her methods have been tried, tested and developed throughout the past century and have been proven to work as one of the most effective teaching methods available. Montessori is based on respecting a child’s innate ability to learn. Classrooms are set up in such a way that children can explore, experiment and learn at their own pace. There are several principles involved in Montessori, but it is important to understand that Montessori is a technique more than anything. Montessori schools can take on their own personalities. They can be religious, free form, private, public, not for profit or any combination thereof– which means our school can be what we make it.
Independence: “Never help a child with something at which he feels he can succeed.” By giving children choice and safely providing independence, children are able to develop the self esteem and self efficacy they need in life. By allowing children to choose what tasks they would like to do, whether/when to have a snack, help the teacher, or finish playing with a certain thing, dress themselves, they are able to develop the skills that they, individually need, and they are also given a sense of control that every person needs in order to feel secure. Giving children a sense of independence and control in a safe environment allows growth, development and surprisingly, helps with many of the behavioural issues that one may find in a traditional setting.
Observation and Following the Child: Observation is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult principle of Montessori. It is easy, because most adults love, and are used to, watching children as a safety precaution, because it is fun to watch how their minds work through a puzzle, and for so many different reasons. It is difficult, because we so often want to interfere and help a child solve a puzzle faster, or show them how a certain thing works. Montessori theory suggests that we observe children and follow their lead because each child innately focuses on the things that he or she still needs to develop further. For example: A teacher may observe that a child is constantly pouring out all the toys. She may notice that that child is working on motor development and provide a set of water pitchers to allow the child to pour water back and forth between containers. This is also an excellent example of Following the Child, which is the principle that follows observation. The teacher observes the needs of the child and provides opportunities for the child to learn and develop the skills that he/she needs based on her play patterns.
Correcting the Child: The above example of a child pouring out all of the toys in a classroom is an excellent instance of correcting the child. Not every behaviour is going to be one that we want to encourage– children are our mini humans, and all people make mistakes. One of the reasons that Montessori classrooms have much lower instances of behavioural issues is because Montessori theory suggests that we do not punish or ever raise our voice to children for misbehaviour, we correct the behaviour in a constructive manner. For example, we may not want a child pouring out all of the tools in the classroom because it may disrupt the other children, so we may say “I see that you really like to pour, why don’t we try pouring the water into the bowl?” This allows the child to choose an alternative, and empowers him/her to develop the skills that he/she may still need to work on. Likewise, if a child were to spill paint on the floor, the teacher may say “I see we have a spill, would you like to use a rag or a mop to clean it up?” This give the child an option for cleaning and does not place blame for a mistake.
Prepared Environment: The Environment is one of the most important components to Montessori Learning. In order to empower children and provide them with the opportunity to choose their focus, the environment must reflect a safe, clean and inviting space for this to happen. Everything in a Montessori classroom is set up on the same level of the child to provide access. This means, counters, tables, tools, snacks, sinks, weekly projects and all materials are accessible to the children at all times. Children choose when and what they want to play with or work on and have the ability to reach it at all times. Children learn to take responsibility for the space, and have a chance to work by themselves, or in groups as they see fit.
Absorbent Mind: You have probably noticed that your child absorbs information at an astonishing rate, especially if he/she is under the age of 3. You might say a word of phrase in passing and not think your child is listening, and then hear it repeated back hours or even days later. Dr. Montessori noticed that not only do children do this with language, the do it with everything. Montessori teachers operate with the understanding that children are learning and absorbing information all the time. This is why the environment is so important. It is also the reason that the Montessori teacher, the materials chosen and the atmosphere of the classroom are so important, the whole child is observing the whole environment all of the time. A holistic approach to learning during your child’s formative years provides a strong foundation for future success.