Dr. Maria Montessori was a visionary who studied and documented the developmental stages of children in the early 1900s. From this research, she created a method of education that respects and celebrates the whole child. Montessori education made its way to the United States in the early 1900s but really didn’t take hold until the 1960s. Despite the increase in the number of Montessori schools around the country over the last fifty years, the Montessori Method is often misunderstood by those who are accustomed to the typical model of traditional elementary education. Parents who go against popular practice and send their children to an accredited Montessori school, however, are often pleased to discover the benefits of Montessori Education.
A Guide who Facilitates Learning
Parents who are concerned about class size and teacher-student ratios are often surprised to hear that a Montessori classroom may have twenty or more students with only one teacher and an assistant. The primary adult in a Montessori classroom is called a “guide,” and her job is to carefully prepare the classroom environment, set and enforce ground rules, demonstrate lessons to children, observe each child’s development, and introduce new lessons when the child is ready. The guide also works closely with parents, teaching them about a child’s development at different ages and how to extend some elements of the Montessori environment into the family home. A Montessori guide creates an optimal place for learning and sets the tone for the children to learn, but the children learn through the hands-on use of the Montessori materials and by following the call of their own curiosity.
Freedom within Limits
Parents who observe a Montessori primary classroom are often fascinated by what seems like organized chaos. They may observe a 3-year-old engrossed in scrubbing a table, another youngster carefully constructing a tower of pink blocks, and a third child sitting on the floor, constructing sentences out of red and blue wooden letters. They may notice older students giving lessons to younger ones, and the guide sitting and observing the children. While some children may work in pairs, many are working alone in deep concentration.
This work period is an all-important aspect of a day in a Montessori classroom. The environment is set up with tables scattered about the classroom, open spaces for children to lay down area rugs to work upon, and low shelves filled with a variety of self-correcting activities. Once a child receives a lesson to do one of these activities, she may choose to do that piece of work and is responsible for everything from set-up to clean-up.
Within this type of classroom environment, children are free to choose what they do, spend as much time on an activity within the work period, and they can do an activity as often as they like. The guides observe all the children and decide when each child is ready to receive a new lesson.
Aside from the main work period each morning, children rely on the predictability of the schedule for the day. It is within these limits of time, community rules and available materials that make it possible for Montessori students to have freedom within limits. The children learn self-discipline and thrive in an environment that satisfies their need for order.
Part of a Community
Montessori classrooms are comprised of students within a specific age range. Primary classes consist of children ages 3 to 6; Early Elementary classes have children from 6 to 9 and Upper Elementary classes are for children 9-12. Some schools have classes for infants and toddlers, and a few have classes that cater to adolescents through high school.
One important benefit of staying in one classroom for three years is the ownership that the older children feel. The older children are leaders in the classroom. They know their way around and mentor and teach the younger children. The youngest children carefully watch the older ones and look forward to being leaders and teachers in the next two years.
Maria Montessori believed that children whose developmental needs are met are peaceful. Peace is an important component of Montessori education, and it appears in the way the children happily do their work, how they are taught to treat others with compassion, and the way they learn about the world. In a Montessori classroom, children are immersed in an environment surrounded by people who actively demonstrate a variety of ways to care for people, belongings, and the world around them. From a young age, they learn to express their feelings and show kindness to others. They are coached on how to resolve conflicts and how to support their classmates. They are given communication tools that serve them long after they leave the Montessori classroom.
Benefits of Montessori Education, from a Montessori Parent
As the parent of two Montessori children, I became a better parent. I received valuable insights about child development from their guides. Life was calmer at home because I learned how to create a home environment that fostered my kids’ independence and encouraged them to be contributing members of the family. I discovered that my children were capable of far more than our society gives them credit for. I took more time to slow down and appreciate the beauty my children saw in the world. Although they are no longer at a Montessori school, they still have an incredible work ethic and deep love for learning, and I see these same qualities in their former Montessori classmates, who feel more like family than kids who went to school with mine. I’m grateful for Maria Montessori and this gift of education she has given the world.