Montessori is an innovative, child-centered approach to education, developed a century ago by Maria Montessori. The goal of Montessori education is to foster a child’s natural inclination to learn. Montessori teachers guide rather than instruct, linking each student with activities that meet his interests, needs, and developmental level. The classroom is designed to allow movement and collaboration, as it also promotes concentration and a sense of order. 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
The Montessori approach includes multi-age groupings that foster peer learning, uninterrupted blocks of work time, and guided choice of work activity. 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.
Source: American Montessori Society
Montessori Education & My Child
Montessori is a unique educational approach that nurtures a child’s intrinsic desire to learn. Montessori focuses on the whole child—his cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development. Montessori education is right for children of any age. Some Montessori schools provide all levels of learning, from infant/toddler though the secondary level. Others offer only certain education levels. Introducing your child to Montessori as early as possible puts her on the right path to becoming a confident, self-motivated learner.
Source: American Montessori Society
The Door to Learning
In a Montessori environment, children learn by exploring and manipulating specially designed materials. Each material teaches one concept or skill at a time, and lays a foundation from which students can comprehend increasingly abstract ideas. Children work with materials at their own pace, repeating an exercise until it is mastered. The teacher may gently guide the process, but her goal is to inspire rather than instruct. Throughout the classroom, beautifully prepared, inviting curriculum areas contain a sequential array of lessons to be learned. As students work through the sequence, they build and expand on materials and lessons already mastered. And all the while they are developing qualities with which they’ll approach every future challenge: autonomy, creative thinking, and satisfaction in a job well done.
Tracking Your Child’s Progress
Although most Montessori teachers do not assign grades, they closely observe each student’s progress and readiness to move on to new lessons. They may orally question a student about what she has learned, or ask her to teach the lesson to a fellow student. In some schools, students compile a portfolio of their work to demonstrate their competence in a variety of skills. Most schools hold family conferences a few times a year so parents may see their child’s work and hear the teacher’s assessment. Teachers typically provide a written narrative that explains a student’s progress in relation to his own development and to developmental norms. If your child attends a public Montessori school, you will probably be given information about her performance on standardized tests, which you can use to evaluate her progress against national norms. Some independent schools also administer standardized exams, particularly if they will be a requirement of schools into which their students will transition. Some parents may wonder why Montessori doesn’t endorse grading, if only to motivate students to work hard. But grades, like other external rewards, have temporary effects at best. Instead, Montessori education nurtures a child’s intrinsic motivation to learn, create, and do satisfying work.
Montessori for Children with Special Needs
Children with special needs, such as learning differences or physical disabilities, often thrive in a Montessori setting. Montessori teaching materials engage all the senses, important for students with distinct learning styles. Students learn by doing and are free to move about, an advantage for those who require a high level of physical activity. And each child has the latitude to learn at his own pace, without pressure to meet formal standards by a predetermined time. Depending on a student’s needs, the school might refer him for additional resources such as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and/or counseling. Nonetheless, some students may need greater accessibility or more support services than a given school can provide. In each situation, the individual's needs and the school’s resources should be carefully assessed to ensure a successful match.
Transitioning to a Traditional School
Many children spend only their preschool years in a Montessori classroom. Others complete the elementary grades before transferring to another—usually traditional—school. A smaller—but growing—group of students stay with Montessori through secondary school. A child who transfers out of a Montessori school is likely to notice some differences. For example, instead of choosing his own work to investigate and master, he might have to learn what’s on the teacher’s lesson plan. Instead of moving freely around the classroom, there’s a chance she’ll sit in an assigned seat. Instead of learning in a classroom with a mixed-aged grouping, it’s probable that she’ll be placed just with students her own age. Fortunately, children are adaptable. Poised, self-reliant, and used to working harmoniously as part of a classroom community, students who transition from Montessori typically adjust quickly to the ways of their new school.
To grasp the essence of Montessori education, just step inside a classroom. 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.
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.
Each classroom is uniquely suited to the needs of its students. Preschool rooms feature low sinks, chairs, and tables; a reading corner with a small couch (or comfy floor cushions); reachable shelves; and child-sized kitchen tools—elements that allow independence and help develop small motor skills. In upper-level classrooms you’re likely to see large tables for group work, computers, interactive whiteboards, and areas for science labs. 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. Beautifully crafted and begging to be touched, 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 students progress, the teacher replaces some materials with others, ensuring that the level of challenge continues to meets their needs.
The Teacher as “Guide”
The Montessori teacher, child, and environment may be seen as a learning triangle, with each element inextricably linked, and a vital part of the whole. The teacher thoughtfully prepares a classroom environment with materials and activities that entice her students to learn. She may guide her students to new lessons and challenges, but it is the child’s interaction with what the environment has to offer that enables learning to occur.
Because the teacher isn’t meant as the focus of attention, he can often be difficult to spot. Typically you’ll find him sitting on the floor or at a table, observing his students as they work and making notations about their progress, or consulting with an individual or a small group.
A Montessori class is composed of students whose ages typically span 3 years. Ideally, members stay with the class, and teacher, for the entire cycle, forging a stable community and meaningful bonds. It is common to see students of different ages working together. Older students enjoy mentoring their younger classmates—sometimes the best teacher is someone who has recently mastered the task at hand. Younger students look up to their big “brothers” and “sisters,” and get a preview of the alluring work to come.
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. They take turns caring for classroom pets and plants; do their part to maintain order, such as by returning materials to the shelves after use; and help keep outdoor spaces groomed and litter-free. 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.
National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector
From The American Montessori Society:
More than 400 public schools nationwide offer Montessori programs. Public Montessori education is a popular option for preschool through high school students attending all types of publicly-funded schools—neighborhood, magnet, and charter.
In 2012, American Montessori Society launched the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector (NCMPS) to assist with the growth and sustainability of Montessori programs in magnet, charter, and district schools across the country. The Center is now independent, but works in close collaboration with AMS.
Source: American Montessori Society