Dr. Maria Montessori developed a method of education in the early twentieth century that has since spread the world over. Her idea was that education should work with the child’s natural tendencies to enable the child to become a fully functioning human being.
Montessori’s method is probably best described as ‘observe and follow’. Dr. Montessori was confident in this approach because she believed that we can trust in the child’s natural development and spontaneous activity of the intellect. Montessori’s method of education is based fairly and squarely on the natural tendencies of the child.
When applying her method, Dr Montessori noticed that children in Montessori schools around the world began to demonstrate what she began to call the ‘characteristics of a normal child’. Normalized children displayed the following attributes:
- Love of order
- Love of work
- Profound, spontaneous concentration
- Attachment to reality
- Love of silence and working alone
- Reduction of the possessive instinct
- Power to act from real choice and not from curiosity
- Independence and initiative
- Spontaneous self discipline
Listen to Anna Lee, a Montessori educator of 13 years, in this TEDx video discuss Montessori as a guide to education reform.
The Montessori areas of activity, or curriculum, is typically divided into the following categories: 1) practical life exercises, 2) sensorial , 3) language, 4) culture, and 5) math. It is presented to the child in a prepared environment which gives the child freedom to explore and gain independence.
Practical Life Exercises
Practical life activities are divided into two areas: 1) care of self and 2) care of the environment. These activities form a basic part of the Montessori method and involve practical, real-life goals which aim to help children develop a sense of order, skills in concentration and coordination and gain independence. Practical life activities address personal care, such as buttoning, zipping, and washing hands; care of the environment, such as polishing, food preparation, and cleaning tables; movement such as pouring, chopping, twisting, and sorting; exercises of grace and courtesy, such as greetings and manners.
Sensorial activities engage the child’s five senses: taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight. Children use their senses to order, classify, and describe materials in relation to color, length, smell, texture, and sound. Materials such as the pink tower, sound cylinders and color tablets help a child to understand and internalize these different concepts.
The sensitive period for acquiring language is from birth to about age 6. Language development is an important part of a child’s cognitive development. Oral language activities focus on simple listening skills, enunciation and vocabulary. Children are encouraged to use words precisely and confidently express themselves. Written language activities, such as the sandpaper letters, help children link symbols with sounds. Children then learn to compose words phonetically using the moveable alphabet.
Cultural activities introduce customs, practices and social behaviors of people from other countries. Activities related to culture involve geography, music, art, and language.
Math comes alive in the Montessori classroom. To begin with children use materials such as the Numerical Rods, Colored Bead Bars, Spindle Box, and Sandpaper Numbers. These concrete, manipulative materials help children learn not only to count but to conceptualize quantity and relationship between the numbers. After mastering the basics of math, children move beyond the concept of 10, learn addition, subtraction, multiplication and division with materials such as the Addition Strip Board, Subtraction Strip Board, Multiplication Bead Board and Division Bead Board.
“And so 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.” – Maria Montessori, (Italian Physician and Educator. 1870-1952)
The role of the teacher, traditionally called the directress, in a Montessori classroom is as a facilitator rather than an instructor. “We teachers can only help the work going on, as servants wait upon a master.” In a typical school the teacher performs the functions of giving work for the children to do and handling discipline. In a Montessori school, the teacher does neither. The children are responsible for choosing their work and because normalized children (refer to definition on the Montessori: Overview page) have the characteristic of self discipline, there is no need for disciplining. The role of the teacher in a Montessori classroom is to help and encourage; give new presentations to children on a didactic material; correct work that has been brought to her by a child; straighten the learning environment; check on children who have not yet been normalized and may be disturbing another child, to interest her in some fresh material; and observe the children to determine which are in need of direction. The teacher will observe, guide, spark and isolate difficulties. The teacher is the link between the child and the learning environment and typically teaches by demonstration.