The Montessori Method of education, developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, is a child-centered educational approach based on scientific observations of children from birth to adulthood. Dr. Montessori’s Method has been time tested, with over 100 years of success in diverse cultures throughout the world.
It is a view of the child as one who is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment. It is an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive.
Hallmarks of Montessori
Components necessary for a program to be considered authentically Montessori include multiage groupings that foster peer learning, uninterrupted blocks of work time, and guided choice of work activity. In addition, a full complement of specially designed Montessori learning materials are meticulously arranged and available for use in an aesthetically pleasing environment.
The teacher, child, and environment create a learning triangle. The classroom is prepared by the teacher to encourage independence, freedom within limits, and a sense of order. The child, through individual choice, makes use of what the environment offers to develop himself, interacting with the teacher when support and/or guidance is needed.
Multiage groupings are a hallmark of the Montessori Method: younger children learn from older children; older children reinforce their learning by teaching concepts they have already mastered. This arrangement also mirrors the real world, where individuals work and socialize with people of all ages and dispositions.
Dr. Montessori observed that children experience sensitive periods, or windows of opportunity, as they grow. As their students develop, Montessori teachers match appropriate lessons and materials to these sensitive periods when learning is most naturally absorbed and internalized.
In early childhood, Montessori students learn through sensory-motor activities, working with materials that develop their cognitive powers through direct experience: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and movement.
In the elementary years, the child continues to organize his thinking through work with the Montessori learning materials and an interdisciplinary curriculum as he passes from the concrete to the abstract. He begins the application of his knowledge to real-world experiences.
This organization of information—facts and figures—prepares the child for the world of adolescence, when thought and emotion evolve into understanding more abstract, universal concepts such as equity, freedom, and justice.
Montessori education offers our children opportunities to develop their potential as they step out into the world as engaged, competent, responsible, and respectful citizens with an understanding and appreciation that learning is for life.
Each child is valued as a unique individual. Montessori education recognizes that children learn in different ways, and accommodates all learning styles. Students are also free to learn at their own pace, each advancing through the curriculum as he is ready, guided by the teacher and an individualized learning plan.
Beginning at an early age, Montessori students develop order, coordination, concentration, and independence. Classroom design, materials, and daily routines support the individual’s emerging “self-regulation” (ability to educate one’s self, and to think about what one is learning), toddlers through adolescents.
Students are part of a close, caring community. The multi-age classroom—typically spanning 3 years—re-creates a family structure. Older students enjoy stature as mentors and role models; younger children feel supported and gain confidence about the challenges ahead. Teachers model respect, loving kindness, and a belief in peaceful conflict resolution.
Montessori students enjoy freedom within limits. Working within parameters set by their teachers, students are active participants in deciding what their focus of learning will be. Teachers understand that internal satisfaction drives the child’s curiosity and interest and results in joyous learning that is sustainable over a lifetime.
Students are supported in becoming active seekers of knowledge. Teachers provide environments where students have the freedom and the tools to pursue answers to their own questions.
Self-correction and self-assessment are an integral part of the Montessori classroom approach. As they mature, students learn to look critically at their work, and become adept at recognizing, correcting, and learning from their errors.
Given the freedom and support to question, to probe deeply, and to make connections, Montessori students become confident, enthusiastic, self-directed learners. They are able to think critically, work collaboratively, and act boldly—a skill set for the 21st century.
Beautiful, inviting, and thoughtfully arranged, the room embodies each element of Maria Montessori’s revolutionary approach.
Natural lighting, soft colors, and uncluttered spaces set the stage for activity that is focused and calm. Learning materials are displayed on accessible shelves, fostering independence as students go about their work. Everything is where it is supposed to be, conveying a sense of harmony and order that both comforts and inspires.
In this safe and empowering environment, students find joy in learning.
Classroom Design Timeline
The design and flow of the Montessori classroom create a learning environment that accommodates choice.
There are spaces suited to group activity, and areas where a student can settle in alone. Parts of the room are open and spacious, allowing a preschooler to lay out strands of beads for counting, or an elementary student to ponder a 10-foot-long Timeline of Life.
You won’t find the customary rows of school desks; children work at tables or on the floor, rolling out mats on which to work and define their work space.
Nor are you likely to find walls papered with brightly colored images of cartoons and syndicated characters. Rather, you might see posters from a local museum, or framed photographs or paintings created by the students themselves.
There are well-defined spaces for each part of the curriculum, such as Language Arts, Math, and Culture. Each of these areas features shelves or display tables with a variety of inviting materials from which students can choose.
Many classrooms have an area devoted to peace and reflection: a quiet corner or table with well-chosen items—a vase of daisies; a goldfish bowl—to lead a child to meditative thought.
And always there are places to curl up with books, where a student can read or be read to.
Above all, each classroom is warm, well-organized, and inviting, with couches, rugs, and flowers to help children and youth feel calm and at home.
Montessori Learning Materials
A hallmark of Montessori education is its hands-on approach to learning. Students work with specially designed materials, manipulating and investigating until they master the lesson inside.
Montessori’s distinctive learning materials are displayed on open, easily accessible shelves. They are arranged (left to right, as we read in Western languages) in order of their sequence in the curriculum, from the simplest to the most complex.
Each material teaches a single skill or concept at a time—for example, the various “dressing frames” help toddlers learn to button, zip, and tie; 3-dimensional grammar symbols help elementary students analyze sentence structure and style. And, built into many of the materials is a mechanism (“control of error”) for providing the student with some way of assessing her progress and correcting her mistakes, independent of the teacher.
The concrete materials provide passages to abstraction, and introduce concepts that become increasingly complex. As student’s progress, the teacher replaces some materials with others, ensuring that the level of challenge continues to meets their needs.
A Caring Community
The Montessori classroom radiates harmony and respect.
Members address each other respectfully and in modulated tones. There are no raised voices; no rude or hurtful behavior. There is a busy hum of activity, yet also a profound respect for silence.
Students show grace and courtesy, and an interest in the welfare of others. “Let me help!” is a common classroom refrain.
Students work together as stewards of their environment. How to live in community, to learn independently, to think constructively and creatively: These are the lessons of the Montessori classroom that remain with its students as they make their way in the world.
Maria Montessori believed that moving and learning were inseparable. The child must involve her entire body and use all her senses in the process of learning. She needs opportunities built into the learning process for looking, listening, smelling, touching, tasting, and moving her body.
When you look at Montessori materials, you are drawn to explore them with your senses. For example, you would want to pick up the sound cylinders and shake them. They consist of 2 matched sets of wooden cylinders containing varying substances that create different sounds when shaken.
The child sorts the sound cylinders using only his listening skill. Two cylinders have the barely audible sound of sand. Two have the slightly louder sound of rice inside them. Others contain beans or items that sound louder still. After matching the cylinders, the child can grade the cylinders—that is, put the cylinders in order of softest to loudest, or loudest to softest.
“Grow” with the Child
Montessori Educational Materials are designed to follow the students throughout their education; they are like familiar faces greeting them in their new classrooms as they advance.
Montessori-structured lessons are the “work” or procedures for each set of materials. A teacher may give a lesson to a child or small group of children, another child may give a lesson, a child may learn how a lesson works by watching others, or a child may explore certain types of materials freely.
For a young child, the Montessori-structured lesson may be silent and may be only a few moments long. This lesson models a method for laying work on a mat or table in an orderly fashion. The lesson helps children develop work habits, organization skills, and general thinking strategy, but it never teaches children the answers.
For students of every age, the Montessori environment offers the tools to discover the answers to their own questions. The teacher is their trusted ally and the learning materials are their tools for discovery, growth, and development. The teacher stays with the students for the entire span of their multi-age grouping, usually 2 or 3 years, nurturing each child’s development over that extended span of time.
She won’t be presenting information for role learning. Rather, she’ll be demonstrating specially designed learning materials that serve as a springboard for investigation and discovery. At the heart of the Montessori Method is the concept that mastery is best achieved through exploration, imitation, repetition, and trial and error.
The teacher thoughtfully prepares a classroom environment with materials and activities that meet his students’ unique interests, academic level, and developmental needs. These he introduces to each child sequentially, laying the foundation for independent learning.
Always, the teacher is aware of each student’s progress as she works toward mastering the particular concept or skill. He knows when to step in to offer special guidance, and when to challenge a student with the next step in a learning sequence.
Montessori education addresses the whole child: his physical, social, emotional, and cognitive growth. As well as helping each child become an independent learner, the teacher helps turn his attention outward, fostering community, collaboration, and respect for the dignity of others.
Teachers quiet orchestrations lead to magical moments as young children exclaim “I learned it myself!”—and older students think it.
Skilled Observer: Through careful observation, the Montessori teacher comes to know each student’s interests, learning style, and temperament. He understands the student’s developmental needs, and is receptive to her “sensitive periods,” when she is ready to learn a new concept or skill.
With this information the teacher chooses materials and lessons that will capture the student’s attention and entice her to learn. When he observes that the student has mastered a concept or skill, he introduces new lessons that become increasingly complex and abstract.
Creative Facilitator: The teacher serves as a resource as students go about their work. She offers encouragement, shares their triumphs, and steers them to greater understanding.
She helps them advance through the curriculum as they master new skills, so they are continually challenged and eager to learn.
As student’s progress, the teacher modifies the classroom environment, adjusting the learning materials to meet the students’ changing needs.
Character Builder: A Montessori class is a close-knit community, fertile ground for nurturing the qualities that help children and youth become citizens of the world and stewards of the planet.
By his own behavior and attitudes, the teacher models values such as empathy, compassion, and acceptance of individual differences. He encourages the students to be courteous and kind. And he brings students together in collaborative activities to foster teamwork, responsibility, self-discipline, and respect.
In the course of helping children become lifelong learners, Montessori teachers enjoy a personal journey of continued discovery and growth.