The Montessori Method of Learning
Banner photo: Maria Montessori with Children | Association Montessori Internationale Resource Library
The Montessori Method is a child-centred educational approach based on scientific observations of children by Italian physicist, Maria Montessori (1870-1952). The Montessori principles have been used for over 100 years in many parts of the world.
Montessori's observations brought the realisation that children are naturally eager for knowledge. Their inherent curiosity will lead them to initiate their own learning, especially if provided with a supportive, thoughtfully prepared environment. Children are encouraged to explore their world, and to understand and respect the life forms, systems and forces of which it consists.
In the Montessori classroom children choose their activities and create their own learning experiences, preparing them to become independent learners. The teacher's role is to introduce age-appropriate materials, then stand back to allow free exploration in uninterrupted blocks of time.
Children are ready to learn new skills at specific or 'sensitive' points in their development. By giving them freedom to choose work that appeals to their inner sense of learning they are allowed to develop at their own pace, without the pressure of adults trying to make them do work they are not ready for. This nurtures their self-esteem and builds their self-confidence and independence.
Children discover the world around them through a hands on approach, promoting enthusiasm and curiosity driven learning. Montessori discovered that experiential learning in this type of classroom led to a deeper understanding of language, maths, science, music, social interactions and more.
Planes of Development
According to Montessori theory humans progress through four 'planes', each with unique physical and psychological developments. Each plane requires the environment to change accordingly to offer appropriate learning experiences.
Infancy is the first plane (birth to 6 years). During this period Montessori observed that the child undergoes striking physical and psychological development. He/she is seen as a sensorial explorer and learner engaged in the developmental work of psychological self-construction and building functional independence.
During the first three years infants learn through their senses, in what is called an unconscious 'Absorbent Mind'. Materials should be matched to the children's size and abilities, with opportunities to develop movement and activities to develop independence.
During the second three years they learn consciously through active hands-on experience. Learning will take place when they are allowed to do things on their own. The 'classroom' is usually arranged with child-sized tables and chairs, with classroom materials on child-height shelves around the room. These often include activities for engaging in practical skills such as pouring and spooning, washing up and sweeping. Also materials for the development of the senses, mathematical materials, language materials, music, art and cultural materials, including more science based activities like 'sink and float'.
Montessori believed that the learning environment should be aesthetically pleasing and designed with the following characteristics in mind:
- An arrangement that facilitates movement and activity
- Beauty and harmony, cleanliness of environment
- Construction in proportion to the child and his/her needs
- Limitation of materials, so that only material that supports the child’s development is included
- Nature in the classroom and outside
The room should be filled with readily available and well organised learning materials. The role of the Montessori teacher is to aid the child's independent learning process, using observation to determine each child's strengths and level of development, then introducing materials that are suitable for that child. He/she should provide guidance in the proper use of that material, then take a step back to allow free exploration. She remains on hand to give further guidance or a helping hand where needed, but is simultaneously an active observer, assessing when children have reached 'sensitive' periods where new concepts may be introduced.