Since Montessori is a word in the public domain, it is possible for any individual or institution to claim to be Montessori. But, an authentic Montessori classroom must have these basic characteristics at all levels:
- Teachers educated in the Montessori philosophy and methodology for the age level they are teachings, who have the ability and dedication to put the key concepts into practice.
- A partnership established with the family. The family is considered an integral part of the individual’s total development.
- A multi-aged, multi-graded heterogeneous grouping of students.
- A diverse set of Montessori materials, activities and experiences which are designed to foster physical, intellectual, creative and social independence.
- A schedule which allows large blocks of time to problem-solve, to see connections in knowledge and to create new ideas.
- A classroom atmosphere which encourages social interaction for cooperative learning, peer teaching and emotional development.
Each Montessori class, from toddlers through high school, operates on the principle of freedom within limits. Every program has its set of ground rules which differs from age to age, but is always based on core Montessori beliefs – respects for each other and for the environment. Children are free to work at their own pace with materials they have chosen, either alone or with others.
The teacher relies on his or her observations of the children to determine which new activities and material he may introduce to an individual child or to a small or large group. The aim is to encourage active, self-directed learning and to strike a balance of individual mastery with small group collaboration within the whole group community.
The three-year-age span in each class provides a family-like grouping where learning can take place naturally. More experienced children share what they have learned while reinforcing their own learning. Because this peer group learning is intrinsic to Montessori, there is often more conversation – language experiences – in the Montessori classroom than in conventional early education settings.
Creativity flourishes in an atmosphere of acceptance and trust. Montessori recognizes that each child, from toddler to teenager, learns and expresses himself in a very individual way.
Music, Art, Foreign Languages, Sports, Yoga, Storytelling, Movement and Drama are part of our Montessori program. There are other things particular to the Montessori environment which encourage a creative development; many materials which stimulate interest and involvement; an emphasis on the sensory aspect of experience; and the opportunity for both verbal and non-verbal modes of learning.
The child is free to move about the classroom at will to talk to other children, to work with any equipment he or she understands, or to ask the teacher to introduce new material to him or her.
The child is not free to disturb other children at work or to abuse the equipment that is so important to the child’s development.
Observers of Montessori children have described them as having developed self-discipline, self-knowledge, and independence, as well as enthusiasm for learning, an organized approach to problem-solving, and academic skills.
Montessori children are unusually adaptable. They have learned to work independently and in groups.
Since they’ve been encouraged to make decisions from an early age, these children are problem-solvers who can make choices and manage their time well. They have also been encouraged to exchange ideas and to discuss their work freely with others. Good communication skills ease the way in new settings.
Research has shown the best predictor of future success is a sense of self-esteem. Montessori programs, based on self-directed, non-competitive activities, help children develop good self-images and the confidence to face challenges and change with optimism.
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This system of education is both a philosophy of child growth and a rationale for guiding such growth. It is based on the child’s developmental needs for freedom within limits, and a carefully prepared environment which guarantees exposure to materials and experiences through which to develop intelligence as well as physical and psychological abilities.
It is designed to take full advantage of the self-motivation and unique ability of young children to develop their own capabilities. Children need adults to expose them to the possibilities of their lives, but the children themselves must direct their responses to those possibilities.
Key premises of Montessori education are:
- Children are to be respected as different from adults, and as individuals who differ from each other.
- Children possess unusual sensitivity and mental powers for absorbing and learning from their environment that are unlike those of the adults both in quantity and capacity.
- The most important years of growth are the first six years of life when unconscious learning is gradually brought to the conscious level.
- Children have a deep love and need for purposeful work.
The child works, however, not as an adult for profit and completion of a job, but for the sake of the activity itself. It is this activity which accomplishes the most important goal for the child: the development of his or her mental, physical, and psychological powers.
- The “whole child” approach: The primary goal of a Montessori program is to help each child reaches full potential in all areas of life. Activities promote the development of social skills, emotional growth, and physical coordination as well as cognitive preparation. The holistic curriculum, under the direction of a teacher, allows the child to experience the joy of learning, time to enjoy the process and insure the development of self-esteem, and provides the experiences from which children create their knowledge.
- The Prepared Environment: In order for self-directed learning to take place, the whole learning environment – room, materials and social climate – must be supportive of the learner. The teacher thus gains the children’s trust, which enables them to try new things and build self-esteem.
- The Montessori materials: Dr. Montessori’s observations of the kinds of things which children enjoy and go back to repeatedly led her to design a number of multisensory, sequential and self-correcting materials which facilitate the learning of skills and lead to learning of abstract ideas.
- The teacher: Originally called a “Directress,” the Montessori teacher functions as designer of the environment, resource person, role model, demonstrator, record-keeper and meticulous observer of each child’s behavior and growth. The teacher acts as a facilitator of learning. Extensive training – a minimum of one full year following the Bachelor of Arts/Science degree is required for a full credential, including a year’s supervised internship for the age group with which a teacher will work, i.e. infant and toddler, three to six year old, elementary or secondary level.