WHat is montessori?

Named after its founder, Dr. Maria Montessori, the Montessori method is based on two simple truths: That children must be respected, and that children spontaneously love learning.

These principles and careful observation form a child-centered method that Montessori called an “education for life.” Its goal is the finest development of the whole human being – emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually – toward the nurturing of peaceful, caring citizens.

The Montessori prepared environment honors the child and the beauty and order essential for him to work at his natural, individual and optimal level. Carefully designed Montessori materials attract the interest of the student, while at the same time teaching an important, isolated concept for the child’s discovery. The child constructs her own reality and awareness, at first concretely through hands-on manipulation, until patterns are internalized and she discovers the next level of abstraction. The integrated Montessori curriculum shows the child how every aspect of learning is connected and intertwined. The Montessori educator understands and guides the child without interfering in her natural ability to teach herself and become an independent, contributing member in the “cosmic plan.”


The First Plane of Development: Birth to Age 6 - Montessori Philosophy

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The first six years of life are marked by tremendous physical and psychological growth, exploration and development. This is the period of infancy, an unconscious period of development. Physically, the body develops from head to toe. The child has a fragile immune system and is susceptible to illness.

Psychologically, the child is a concrete thinker, taking in everything around him/her. Montessori coined this plane as the time of the Absorbent Mind. She believed that more learning takes place at this stage of life than during any other. Children begin to acquire language, develop cognitive and motor skills, begin to imitate the adults around them, and develop expectations of the world around them.

The child during the first plane of development has many needs. Emotionally, he/she needs love and acceptance, respect and understanding, warmth and protection. The child also has a need for security, order, as much freedom and independence as he/she can handle, and social relationships.
Montessori believed that a prepared environment should be provided to allow the child to explore and experience purposeful activities. She believed that during this time, there should be two to three environments for the child. During the first two months, the child should be with his/her mother to build and strengthen the mother/child bond. After that, it is ideal that the child be taken care of in the home. However, this is not always a possibility and Montessori Infant/Toddler programs are specially prepared to meet the needs of these young children. From the age of 2 ½ or 3 until about 6, the child moves towards gaining independence, where it is not uncommon to hear a child wish to “do it myself."

It is also during this time that children undergo a series of sensitive periods or “windows of opportunity." This is a time of innate learning: developing language skills, the urges to sit up, crawl, and walk. It is during these sensitive periods that it is easier for a child to learn certain concepts that will be more difficult as they get older. Montessori identified 11 different sensitive periods from birth to age six.

Sensitive Periods for Learning (from The Montessori Foundation

  • Movement - Random movements become coordinated and controlled: grasping, touching, turning, balancing, crawling, and walking. (Birth to age 1)

  • Language - Use of words to communicate: a progression from babble to words to phrases to sentences, with a continuously expanding vocabulary and comprehension. (birth to age six)

  • Small Objects - A fixation on small objects and tiny details. (Age 1 to age 4)

  • Order - Characterized by a desire for consistency and repetition and a passionate love for established routines. Children can become deeply disturbed by disorder. The environment must be carefully ordered with a place for everything and with carefully established ground rules. (Age 2 to age 4)

  • Music - Spontaneous interest in and the development of pitch, rhythm, and melody. (Age 2 to age 6)

  • Grace & Courtesy - Imitation of polite and considerate behavior leading to an internalization of these qualities into the personality. (Age 2 to age 6)

  • Refinement of the Senses - Fascination with sensorial experiences (taste, sound, touch, weight, smell) resulting with children learning to observe and with making increasingly refined sensorial discriminations. (Age 2 to age 6)

  • Writing - Fascination with the attempt to reproduce letters and numbers with pencil or pen and paper. Montessori discovered that writing precedes reading. (Age 3 to age 4)

  • Reading - Spontaneous interest in the symbolic representations of the sounds of each letter and in the formation of words. (Age 3 to age 5)

  • Spatial Relationships - Forming cognitive impressions about relationships in space, including the layout of familiar places. Children become more able to find their way around their neighborhoods, and they are increasingly able to work complex puzzles. (Age 4 to age 6)

  • Mathematics - Formation of the concepts of quantity and operations from the uses of concrete material aids. (Age 4 to age 6)

These sensitive periods can last days, months, or even years and stop just as suddenly as they begin. The learning done during the sensitive periods is not complete nor will the child have reached a level of abstraction. However, the foundational building blocks were laid for further learning to occur as the child grows older. When a solid foundation is lacking, children will experience learning difficulties later on.

Children in their first plane of development are constantly taking in and processing the world around them. Having a solid understanding of the physical, psychological, emotional, and intellectual needs of each child helps us best serve the needs for the individual child in a Montessori environment.

Source: NAMC


about dr. montessori

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Maria Montessori is often referred to as "ahead of her time". Born in Italy in 1870, Maria Montessori moved to Rome with her parents in 1875 at the age of five. Although her father Alessandro embraced traditional views of female education, it was the more liberal approach of her mother, Renilde Montessori, that encouraged Maria Montessori to explore her natural inclination to learn, regardless of the social restrictions placed on women in the male-dominated society of the day. In so doing, Renilde played an active role in her daughter's upbringing, and indeed, the whole philosophy behind what is now known as the "Montessori Method."

Dr. Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952)

Studies in math, physics, natural sciences, biology and medicine led Maria Montessori to apply to the College of Medicine at the University of Rome, and she became the first female certified physician in Italy in 1896, graduating at the top of her class. In addition to her duties as a doctor, Maria Montessori conducted research work in psychiatric medicine and continued her education in philosophy, psychology and education. She was appointed professor of anthropology at the University of Rome in 1904.

Throughout, her interest in the development of children grew - first from her experience with disabled children and the deplorable state of their care at the time, then further with mentally-challenged children in her care. As she learned from the work of others already accomplished in the area of early childhood education, her own theories evolved, embracing elements, ideas and methods of all disciplines she had studied.

In 1906, at the age of 36, Maria Montessori founded the first Casa dei Bambini, or "Children's House" for children of the industrial revolution's working-class in one of the city's worst slum districts. With some 60 children in her care, Maria Montessori began their education by instructing the older children on how to help out with everyday chores. Sense materials that she had developed previously were introduced, and to her surprise, Montessori discovered how naturally young children adapted and enjoyed learning everyday tasks. The structure of work and constructive activity gave the children a sense of self-worth that they had never before experienced.

One of Dr. Maria Montessori's first major hurdles to improve the lives of these children was accomplished by encouraging parents to recognize that their children were special and of great value. From this reverence for the individual beauty and potential grew the Montessori Method. Critical periods of early childhood development were identified through her observations, and the methodology evolved to address these periods with age-appropriate learning tools and activities. Further development of the methodology embraced what Montessori described as the "cosmic education" - where children would be given the environment and guidance to become the peacemakers of the future, existing in harmony with all living beings in a sustainable world.

From this time to her death in 1952, Maria Montessori continued her work, which became widely recognized and embraced throughout the United States, Europe, and India. She conducted and founded training courses on these continents, established a research institute in Spain, and developed Montessori Training Centers in the Netherlands and London.

Maria Montessori was a three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize- in 1949, 1950, and 1951.


What is the difference between Montessori and Traditional Education?

If you are new to Montessori education, often the first question you might ask is “what makes Montessori different?” Truly, the answer to that question is immense! So, in effort to make this bountiful banquet of information a little more digestible, I have organized some of the key concepts into these ten BIG differences:

  1.  The Prepared Environment. Montessori classrooms are prepared in advance based on observations of the students’ individual needs. They include student-centered lessons and activities. Traditional classrooms are based on teacher-centered lessons or activities.
  2. Active vs. Passive. Montessori lessons are hands-on and active. Students discover information for themselves. Traditional school lessons are often orated to students who listen passively, memorize, and take tests.
  3. Give ‘Em Time. In the Montessori classroom, children work on lessons as long as need be, and interruptions are avoided whenever possible. Time limitations are mandated by arbitrary schedules in traditional classrooms.
  4. The Teachers’ Role. Montessori teachers act as guides and consultants to students on a one-on-one basis. They assist each child along his or her own learning path.Traditionally, the pace and order of each lesson is predetermined. The teacher must deliver the same lesson, at the same pace, in the same order, for all of the students.
  5. Age Groups and Grade-levels. In Montessori schools, “grade-levels” are flexible and determined by the child’s developmental range, i.e., 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, 12-15, and 15-18 years of age. In traditional schools, grade levels are not flexible and strictly defined by chronological age within a twelve-month period.
  6. Adaptable Curricula. Montessori curricula expand in response to the students’ needs. Traditional curricula are predetermined without regard to student needs.
  7. Pace Yourself. The individual child’s work pace is honored and encouraged in the Montessori classroom. Traditional classrooms expect all children to work at the same pace.
  8. Self-Made Self-Esteem. Montessorians understand that the child’s self-esteem comes from an internal sense of pride in his or her own accomplishments. In traditional classrooms, self-esteem is thought to come from external judgement and validation.
  9. For the Love of Learning.Montessori curricula are intended to appeal to the child’s innate hunger for knowledge. Children learn to love learning. Traditional curricula focus on standardized test performance and grades. Children learn because it is mandatory.
  10. Change is Good. The Montessori Method was created by Maria Montessori and is based on a lifetime of study and observation with regard to the way children really learn. Traditional education is based on…well…tradition.
* Source: ageofmontessori.org