What is the Montessori Philosophy and Method of Education

Montessori Philosophy and Method of Education was written by Dr. Maria Montessori in the early 1900s while working with mentally handicapped children, and then applying the same techniques to “normal” children in a slum district of Rome. The first Casa dei Bambini or Children’s House was established in 1907 in Rome, Italy. She believed that if the principles of nature are applied to the education of children, they will show powerful, inborn qualities such as love of order, intelligence, spontaneous self-discipline and affinity with others. She believed in individualized learning, and freedom within limits. Process of learning is more important than the product.

Dr. Montessori emphasized three key points in all her books: an orderly prepared environment; a humble, observing teacher; and freedom for the child were key to the proper development of the child. She respected the uniqueness of each child, and believed that they could reach their potential if given the right environment.

Children in a Montessori classroom are of mixed ages from 2 ½ to 6 years. No one child works with every material available in the classroom. There is a selection of material which is appropriately challenging for each child. They gradually move through the curriculum at their own pace over a 3 year period. A 2 ½ year old child is encouraged to work with activities in “Daily Living” to develop independence, confidence, coordination and concentration, and activities in “Sensorial” area to refine the sensory perceptions of touch, sound, sight, hearing etc. Once the child becomes confident in these areas, the lessons from sensorial area are applied to development of mathematical and language concepts.

Sequencing skills learnt through daily living activities prepare a child for sequencing sounds to build words in language. Materials in the Sensorial area such as the silence game, sound cylinders, musical bells aid in distinguishing letter sounds that help with word building. Materials dealing with visual discrimination such as geometric cabinet, knobbed and knobless cylinders prepare the children for distinguishing letter symbols. When children have worked through the daily living and sensorial areas, they are introduced to the sandpaper letters and numbers. These involve the sense of sight, touch and hearing. The child sees the letter/number, he feels it with the tip of his fingers, and he hears the sound from the teacher. The touch boards in the sensorial area develop the sense of touch in preparation for feeling of letter and number symbols to create a mental association of the sound and the symbol. Next is the movable alphabet, where they learn to put different sounds together to write words. Reading is an additional step beyond writing. Similarly, after being proficient in recognizing number symbols, the child is introduced to the number rods in order to associate quantity with symbols. The red rods in the sensorial area prepare a child for visually recognizing the varying lengths of the number rods. The concept of sequencing learnt through daily living activities is applied to introducing number conservation through the spindle boxes, and cards and counters. Once these materials have been mastered, the child moves on to more advanced concepts of the Decimal System, and mathematical operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. In addition to learning through the Daily Living, Sensorial, Math and Language areas of the classroom, the child’s perception of the world around him is enhanced through lessons in music, art, geography, culture and science studies.

Montessori classrooms encourage social development through opportunities for conversation among children, and between adults and children in the classroom. They help in development of four main characteristics of personality – Ability to concentrate, an interest and pleasure in meaningful work, self-discipline, and the desire to be a contributing member of a community. Children have a natural impulse to move and explore, which shows curiosity. Exploring without disturbing the order in the classroom shows self-control and discipline.

She emphasized three key points in all her books: an orderly prepared environment; a humble, observing teacher; and freedom for the child were key to the proper development of the child. She respected the uniqueness of each child, and believed that they could reach their potential if given the right environment.

Prepared Environment:

Montessori Method of Education fosters the physical, mental and social development of the child in a safe, peaceful, child-centered environment. Since a child constructs his mental powers by activity of the mind and body, and by absorbing from the environment in the early years of his life, a prepared environment built around the needs of the child that allows him to explore and discover freely is necessary for the proper mental development.

Montessori classroom allows for hands on activity where children experience concepts concretely, before they can grasp abstract ideas. The classroom has child-sized furniture, sinks and toilets to give the child the freedom to move about freely. Environment built to child’s proportions is not enough to free the child’s spirit. A prepared environment has things from daily life to prepare the child for adulthood through coordination, concentration, independence and order. It has sensorial materials that teach him precision and discrimination in delicate differences in the environment. It has material for acquisition of culture in areas of Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, History, Geography, Art, Handwork, etc.

The main goal of the prepared environment is to make the child independent from the adult. Since the child develops his mental powers by exploration and activities through his own efforts, the prepared environment is safe and simplified to allow the child to move around freely without help from the teacher. There is control of error built into each material that allows the child to be free of the adult, and detect his own mistakes and correct them. It prepares him for further learning in life with logical thinking and problem solving skills.

The main aspects of the Montessori method of education are content enhancement, social, physica,l and emotional development. The materials in the classroom are grouped together in areas dealing with different parts of the curriculum: Daily Living, Sensorial, Language, Math, Geography, Science and Culture studies. Materials within a particular area are sequenced for gradual progression from one activity to the next. Arts and crafts projects tie in with the Science and cultural studies. The area of daily living has child-sized materials that he sees in use by adults at home. It gives him the opportunity to do work as grown-ups do. He learns how to take care of his environment through activities such as sweeping, mopping, washing dishes, washing clothes, etc. He learns to take care of himself through activities such washing hands, and various dressing frames for buttoning, bow tying, etc. He learns the lessons of grace and courtesy that teach him how to live harmoniously and function in a civilized society. Large Muscle development is enhanced by carrying materials in all areas from the shelves to the table or rug, and free movement through the classroom. You see children sitting on the chair, or on the floor working with material on the rug. Development of small muscle coordination occurs through lessons such as spooning, pouring, nut and bolt activities, etc. in daily living, and knobbed cylinders, knobless cylinders, geometric cabinet in the Sensorial area. These activities also develop the power to concentrate, and prepares the child for reading and writing. Being able to do things without assistance from the adult builds self confidence, and encourages the child to explore. Content enhancement is encouraged by guiding the children to work with concrete, then moving them to abstract. Children learn the name and purpose of the object they hold in their hand, then they match it to a picture of the object, and then a symbol that represents that object.

Role of the Teacher:

Montessori calls the adult in a Montessori classroom a directress rather than a teacher, since her primary function is to direct the natural energy in the children, not teach. Her mission as an educator is “to give a ray of light” to the child and walk away. She is the dynamic link between the child and the prepared environment. Her role is to introduce each individual child to the material at the right moment based on his needs. Being able to determine the right moment comes through observation of the child. Through observation, she can decipher the individual needs of the children, and respond to them accordingly. She prepares the environment before the children come into the classroom based on their needs. She makes sure that there is something for each child that will grab his attention, and encourage him to repeat the activity with the goal of attainment of perfection. Montessori views the directress as the guardian of the prepared environment. She prepares the environment that leads to children’s freedom. She knows their needs before they ask. She knows when to present a lesson, and when to hold back. This only comes from observation.

A child begins to go through a sensitive period of order around age 2. The directress makes every effort to follow the mantra, “A place for everything, and everything in its place”. To be able to find things in their places, and to return them where they belong gives the children a deep sense of satisfaction. They enjoy maintaining this order in their environment. Children use their mental energy to do spontaneous, constructive work on their environment. If order is not preserved, this precious mental energy will be wasted to search for things they need to do a particular task. The directress ensures that all the material, down to the last detail, is in its proper place, and ready for the child to use. The success of her class depends on how well she can maintain this order in the classroom.

Freedom within Limits:

Some people believe that children in a Montessori classroom wander aimlessly. It is true that the children are allowed to move around freely, but they are not wandering aimlessly. A child goes through special periods called “sensitive periods” where his mind has a distinctive sensibility towards certain elements in his environment. He is driven by an inner force towards these elements for the purpose of learning a function. Nothing else in the environment can distract him from doing what his mind directs him to do. This period is temporary and fades, and the child develops the sensibility towards something else that may be very different. Work done by the child, driven by this inner impulse makes him stronger, more peaceful and calm. They are driven by the burning passion of the sensitive periods to certain elements in the environment. Hence, children are trusted to make their own choices and to repeat it as many times as they want to, driven by an inner desire. Primary source of direction is from the child. Freedom leads to spontaneous concentration, which results in inner development.

The directress exercises certain limitations to free choice. She does not intervene in any activity which leads to order, harmony and self-development. At the same time, she is not afraid to destroy what undermines a child’s creative energies, or leads to disorder in the classroom. The first limitation to freedom in a child is the creative interest of the group. He must not disturb or distract other children in the classroom. Second limitation is that a child is not allowed to choose any material unless he already knows how to use it. If a child picks up something out of curiosity, he is acting on instinct. By selecting a work that has already been presented, a child has made a choice to grow, since he has a need for action to reinforce and expand his mind. Third limitation is the correct use of Materials. A child can only work with a material as long as he uses it the right way. Montessori material is made with scientific precision for a particular use, with a goal of development of the child. The development comes from advancement towards perfection, which comes from correct use of materials. Fourth limitation is the number of materials in the environment. A directress makes a selection of materials to be placed in the classroom before the children come in to the room. This also is based on the free choice of the children, since the material placed in the environment has stood the test of children’s approval and interest and keeps their concentration and self-activity.

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