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What is Montessori?

Montessori is a method of learning designed by Maria Montessori.  She was the first female, Italian physician and based her educational research on scientific observations and natural child development.  There is a strong basis in experiential learning where children derive meaning and understanding through self-directed discovery with hands-on manipulatives.  The classroom is guided by an educator that is highly trained in preparing the environment, understanding the social and emotional aspect of each age group, and assisting children in making age-appropriate choices within a challenging range of concepts to be learned in each subject area.  Children in a Montessori classroom have the freedom to move around and explore works that speak to them and spark their interest.  This learning environment allows children to learn at their own pace and repeat concepts in order to achieve mastery.  It is the intention of the Montessori educator to assist in the development of the whole child.

Maria Montessori portrait on 1000 Italy lira (1990) banknote close up, famous Italian educ

Maria Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was an Italian physician and anthropologist who dedicated herself to understanding the development of children in all aspects of life...socially, emotionally, physically, spiritually and intellectually.  Through many careful observations of children at work all over the world, she discovered that there where universal patterns of development in all children regardless of ethnicity, cultural background or gender.  She learned that all children go through the same stages of development in roughly the same sequential order, but may vary in the pace in which they progress through them. 

Maria Montessori is well known for her work and contribution in Rome's San Lorenzo slum district where she was given the responsibility of caring for a group of children.  During this time, she was able to see the impact of providing a positive, nurturing environment.  Through careful observations, she was able to witness how children respond best to their environment and what their true capabilities were when given a choice to follow their interests.  It was at this time that she developed what we term "Montessori materials" which are generally concrete, physical representations of concepts that children naturally want to learn about. 

Dr. Montessori spent much of her time traveling and lecturing in different parts of the world, namely Europe, India, and the United States.  Some of her associates include Erik Erikson, Mahatma Gandhi, Anna Freud, Jean Piaget, and Alexander Graham Bell.  She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949, 1950 and 1951.  Maria Montessori was an inspiration, and her legacy lives on in the many lives she continues to shape through Montessori education. 

"We discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being."

                                                         - Dr. Maria Montessori

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Montessori in the Classroom

The Montessori classroom is a very peaceful, child-centered environment.  From the outside looking in, you will observe children moving about the room independently and purposefully as they select materials off of the shelves, take them to their table or rug, and work through the lesson on their own, with a partner, or in a small group.  Everything in the classroom is scaled to the child's size so they are better able to handle the materials safely and efficiently.  Additionally, there is no focal point in the room because the educator is viewed as a facilitator to the child and not the focus of the child's attention. 

The classroom is lined with low shelves that house materials from different subject areas, namely Practical Life, Sensorial, Math, Language, Science, and Geography/cultural Studies.  Subject areas are grouped together.  Montessori time is composed of a block of 2 1/2 to 3 hours where the children move freely from one subject area to another.  They  spend an undefined amount of time with each lesson to allow for thorough exploration and concept retention.  If there is paperwork that accompanies a lesson, it is not graded.  If the work does not have a control of error built in where the child can see and correct their mistake on the spot, then the educator will point out what needs addressed so the student can go back, find their mistake, and make the correction.  This along with repetition of the skill leads to mastery of concepts.

Over the years in a Montessori classroom, students move from learning concepts concretely to abstractly.  However, there are guiding principles across all age groups.  They are based on over a hundred years of research and include:

  1. Prepared learning environment

  2. Hands-on manipulatives

  3. Discovery

  4. Respect

  5. Freedom of choice

  6. Imagination

  7. Independence

Montessori teachers are specially trained to facilitate linking the child's experiences to the prepared environment.  The teacher plays an unobtrusive role in the classroom but is key to assisting with connections, organizing, presenting, and observing to better assist with the natural flow of learning in the child. 

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