The Montessori approach emphasises equal importance of the child, the teacher and the prepared environment. The child is respected as an individual, with unique developmental and learning needs. The directress (teacher) is not just an ‘expert who imparts knowledge’ but rather the connecting link between the child and the material that is best suited to meeting his/her needs at a given time.
The approach is based on the guiding principle of freedom within limits and structure. The child is free to choose, to move, to explore and to interact socially but very importantly each child is also free from interference. Disruption and disturbance by others is therefore limited. Each child learns the routine and structure of the classroom and daily activities.
Montessori education is based on the provision of a specially prepared environment that consists of materials constructed to meet a child’s developmental needs and learning at various periods of sensitivity.
The prepared environment is aesthetically pleasing and reflects peace and tranquility. The setup is logical, simple and not over stimulating.
The materials and surroundings of a Montessori environment are, as far as is possible, natural and real.
The Montessori environment is social. There is freedom to interact and children develop compassion, empathy, teamwork and leadership. Spontaneous grouping takes place whilst disturbance to others is minimised. The children benefit from the modelling that stems from vertical grouping (multi-age setting). In a mixed age class children can always find peers who are working at their current level. To accommodate the needs of individual children, the prepared environment includes materials that cover the entire span of interests and abilities, up to and beyond the oldest and most accelerated child in the class. This creates a highly enriching environment. The younger children are stimulated by the interesting work of the older children and observation thereof only adds to their growth. The continuity within the classroom leads to a sense of community.
Importantly, the environment is geared towards the overall development of the child, including intellectual growth. Intellectual development occurs, in a large part, through exploration of the specific learning materials. The Montessori philosophy enables children to trust their own abilities and solve problems independently. Each apparatus has a specific learning purpose and self-correcting nature so that the child learns through experience with the support of his / her directresses.
The directresses have a key role in ensuring the environment is well prepared and that all children are being supported to grow in accordance with their developmental needs to reach their potential. The directress gets to know the children extremely well, therefore enabling her to motivate the individual to higher levels of competence.
Foremost in Montessori education is to enhance a sound work ethic and a love for learning!
The Practical Life Area
In the Practical Life area, the child carries out familiar home activities such as sweeping, polishing, pouring and preparing food and many more. Activities are non-threatening and allow the child to carry out the activity for the sake of the process, not the outcome. The child may repeat activities in line with their current learning needs and experience success relating to these. These activities are designed to help the child achieve independence through meaningful tasks with real life objects. They help develop co-ordination, concentration, independence, hand dexterity, patience and “grace and courtesy.” The Practical Life activities develop the child’s ability to concentrate which is the best possible preparation for the intellectual work to come. This area helps to develop a good work ethic and refines movement which is important for future academic growth.
The Sensorial Area
Sensorial materials are specially designed materials aimed at enhancing and refining the senses. These activities are presented to the child who then carries them out in a set way that aids development. The sensorial material therefore allows the child to understand the environment while learning through the senses. Each piece of apparatus has an isolated quality, such as colour, weight, size, sound, texture or smell.
Growth occurs as the child correctly applies his / her senses and manipulates objects. Children work with specific sets of blocks, rods, cylinders graduated in size, knobbed cylinders which have to be fitted into the right holes in a block, and many more activities that involve differentiating materials from one another and sensory exploration.
All these activities develop the child’s understanding of the world, enhance his/ her attention to detail and ultimately refine the senses for all other life and learning experiences.
The Cultural Area
The cultural area of the classroom consists of material relating to geography, history, music, botany, zoology, science and art. Apparatus relating to these subjects includes globes, maps, puzzles, nomenclatures (sets of cards for isolating, matching and naming elements), object matching activities, materials for set experiments (for example magnetic and non-magnetic, sink and float etc), books and many more. Together the directress and the child discover using learning materials. The child grows to understand and appreciate the links between all things. He / she develops a real understanding, respect for and care of his world.
The Mathematical Area
The mathematical area enhances learning through the exploration and discovery of mathematical ‘truths’. Mathematical apparatus is based on the idea that concrete experience builds the foundation for understanding of future abstract mathematical concepts. As with other apparatus a single learning is isolated, for example, the concept of zero meaning “nothing” when it stands alone; the introduction of odds and evens; the concept of addition; and so forth. The maths area appeals to the child’s sensitivity to order in this phase of his / her life. The child enjoys working with the apparatus and develops an inquiring mind whilst learning a ‘universal language’.
The Language Area
The Language Area
The language area consists of materials relating to all elements of a child’s language development. This area includes apparatus which prepares the child for writing and materials which introduce the child to elements of language such as nouns, verbs, pronouns, collective nouns, singular and plural and opposites. The game of “I Spy” is played in a structured way so that the child may learn to identify and isolate sounds in words.
Apparatus known as the sandpaper letters are used to teach the child the phonetic alphabet which forms the basis for spelling (word building) and reading. The child progresses through pink (3 letter phonetic words), blue (larger phonetic words) and green (blends and exceptions) word building and reading material. The child is constantly exposed to materials which extend vocabulary and enhance overall expressive and receptive language ability.
Montessori materials each have a working aim and a number of indirect aims. They are child sized, attractive and in good condition. Materials are relevant and culturally specific. They are freely available to the children to select, work with and return to their rightful position.
All items needed for an activity are located together and their position on the shelves remains constant so that the child can independently select and carry out ‘work’. The arrangement is from simple to more complex meaning the child will work through materials in a logical order suited to his / her developing need for the enhancement of skills and achievement.
All materials have a ‘control of error’ or self correcting nature which allows the child to learn from experience and to correct mistakes. This develops perseverance, a positive self image and attitude towards making mistakes. Apparatus first aims at concrete understanding which forms the basis for later abstract understanding.
Intellectual, emotional and social development
Montessori philosophy is based on the premise that children have an intrinsic motivation, love for learning and naturally guide their own development if provided with the opportunity and resources to do so. There are developmentally appropriate expectations placed on the children to challenge themselves in accordance with their individual potential and developmental phase. Children work in all areas within the structure without interference from others. As this happens the children increasingly take responsibility for their daily learning. In this way their confidence and independence grows. They feel inwardly accountable to do their best and feel proud of their efforts. They learn to make choices every day. Because the children are grouped vertically they ‘compare’ themselves with children at different levels, thus basing their achievements more on their own improvement than against others. The directress works with the children at each opportunity to develop their social and emotional coping skills, increase their ability to express their needs and feelings, apologise sincerely and place themselves in the shoes of others.
The structure and method enables spontaneous group work. A sense of community, respect for the individuals and team work are highly valued in the class setting. Children are constantly exposed to working together to learn together or achieve a common goal. In physical education they are also introduced to goal directed teamwork. ‘Grace and Courtesy’ is considered a Montessori ‘subject’ and emphasis is placed on the social interactions and acceptable behavior in these contexts. Because the children now learn more deeply about other cultures and languages they naturally become increasingly knowledgeable and respectful of differences between individuals and groups of people. This is a natural time of looking outward at the world and those around them.
Importantly, the children have fun with each other, the directresses and the apparatus as they learn and play.