The Montessori approach to education was developed by Maria Montessori, the Italian physician, psychiatrist, and anthropologist who lived from 1870 to 1952. Dr. Montessori dedicated her life to the observation and study of children from infancy to adulthood. She used her findings to develop a system of education solidly founded on the principles of natural development of the child.
The Montessori approach to education is fundamentally child centric vis-à-vis other systems of education we have known which are teacher centric. In the conventional education systems, the children usually learn more passively and the quantum of learning is fixed irrespective of the diversity of interests/abilities of the child to grasp the concepts being taught.
The Montessori Method is founded on the belief that children possess an inherent love of learning. Dr. Montessori discovered that children have the ability to teach themselves when they were given the appropriate materials, guidance and freedom to explore in a properly prepared environment. The teacher functions as vital connect between the child and the environment as a result of which the child joyfully develops inner discipline, self-assurance and preference for purposeful activity. All of these serve to build the child’s will and ability to respond to stimuli with responsible independence and confidence.
Dr. Maria Montessori suggested that the period of growth from birth to adulthood can be divided into 4 developmental planes, each having distinct developmental needs revealing physical and psychological characteristics where children seek specific stimuli with such intensity that they can easily master a skill. We know and understand from her philosophy and through practice that the development in one stage empowers the child with the right tools / skills to begin his development in the next stage.
From birth to age 6, children occupy the first plane, in which they are sensorial explorers who absorb their surroundings. The child’s task at this stage is to lay the foundation for his personality, his discovery of who he is and what is in his environment and his adaptation to the world around him.
Montessori classrooms are known as “Prepared Environments” with specially designed materials and learning tools developed by Dr. Montessori herself. As children develop on different timelines, each child works at his own pace, with the teacher providing new lessons and necessary guidance at appropriate intervals. The classrooms operate with a mixed age group of children, allowing the children to form close relationships and engage in cooperative learning and mentoring roles.
The adults in the child’s Montessori Environment ensure that the child has suitable experiences to develop the skills he requires through activities provided at just the right time. A Prepared Environment and the opportunities for repeated practice at the child’s own pace helps the child construct himself and progress in his journey of development.
Therefore, the adults are not Teachers who teach, but supporters who understand, observe and provide for the child’s developmental needs. The child is properly guided in his path to discovery and understanding of the physical, abstract and cultural ways of the world through his senses.
What is taught in the Montessori classroom?
The prepared environment is ‘scientifically’ designed to support the child, who absorbs at ease like a sponge and learns at his own individual rhythm. Areas of the prepared environment support the following categories of activities:
Practical Life – To develop concentration and coordination
Sensorial – To develop and refine the senses
Math – To develop the logical mind
Language – To interact with society
Science (Nature) – To learn about the wonders of the world from botany to zoology
Geography and Culture – To study the physical forms of the earth and civilizations
Arts – To express the inner self
Physical Education – To develop and refine control over the body and practice co-operation