The Montessori Method
Dr. Montessori (1870-1952), the first female physician in Italy and a pioneer in early education, recognised the critical importance of childhood learning. She spent many decades creating “The Montessori Method”, an integrated program tailored to meet the developmental needs of young children.
At age two to three, a child is at the beginning of their intellectual and personal journey. Their early experiences, observations, thoughts and choices will help form their way of thinking, their approach to using their mind & how they can draw conclusions about the environment around them.
The Montessori Method provides a great framework a child needs to make the most of the sensitive period of their development. It enables development of motor and social skills, to learn handwriting, reading and basic numeracy and to grow into a capable, confident young person eager to explore the fascinating world around him.
The Prepared Environment
Our classrooms are large, open spaces, framed by low open shelves which display a variety of educational materials or “works” from which a child can choose freely. The attractive materials, made from brightly painted wood, ceramic, metal, or glass are specially designed to be “self-correcting” and lend themselves to repeated practice. A child using them can independently gauge their own performance, without needing constant feedback from a teacher, and so learning becomes a natural, self-reinforcing process. Classroom furniture is child-sized and can easily be moved about by the children, who thereby learn to adapt the classroom space to many different uses.
Instruction is one-on-one, or in small groups. The teacher first introduces an activity that is at the right level of difficulty, i.e. that is challenging but achievable within the range of the child’s abilities. She presents the activity while seated next to the child, moving her hands slowly and precisely so that he can observe her actions. She then has the child repeat the activity. Once the child has been shown how to do an activity in this way, he is thereafter free to choose it at any time and work with it for as long as he likes. As he repeats the activity over time, he acquires mastery of both the motor skills involved, and of the abstract concept such as length, or colour manifested by the material.
The Work Period
Our full day program students have two extended work periods, a 3-hour morning work period and a 2 hour afternoon work period. During these times, children choose their “work” from the shelves, and carry them to a work space they select, a low table, or a mat they roll out on the floor. Each child works independently (or, occasionally, with one or two freely chosen partners) with the material for as long as they are interested. Once they complete their work, he returns it to its proper location, and is free to select another activity, or take a break, maybe have a snack, and then select his next activity. The classroom is structured, but unlike traditional setups the structure recognises the child’s need to develop the capacity to make independent choices.
Learning, in Montessori, is not an adult-led process of transmitting knowledge, but rather a process whereby the child teaches himself. The Directress and/or Teacher act as a guide. The first skill a child needs to acquire is an ability to sustain attention, to concentrate. By offering activities which the child is naturally interested in, and which lend themselves to repetition, makes it an enjoyable process where the child learns to focus and appreciate the developing ability to solve problems independently.
Independence and self-esteem
First year students will spend a lot of time with practical life exercises, which help develop the ability to take care of their own needs, care for the environment, to dress and undress, to prepare foods, and to pour water. Our materials are designed, and the teachers trained, to help the child learn how to break down the required actions, to perform them step-by-step, and to do them repeatedly. For example, the dressing frames isolate the skill of buttoning with an attractive material, children enjoy buttoning and unbuttoning, over and over, until they master the skill.
As they acquire skills, the child experiences the pride of independence. At an age during which he might otherwise throw tantrums over wanting to “do it all by myself”, but not be able to accomplish the desired task, they instead learn to do it on their own. By perceiving themselves as a capable, they acquire real self-esteem and come to regard effort as positive, becoming an eager learner who seeks out new challenges.
In this way the classroom setup perpetuates both the child’s intellectual growth and the accompanying self-confidence.
Mature social skills
In Montessori classrooms, children are taught to respect each other and to act with grace and courtesy, to walk around another child’s mat, to avoid interrupting when others are speaking, to say please and thank you. Like everything else in the classroom, social interactions are voluntary, children choose whether to work alone or together, whether and when to share. Under the expert guidance of the Directress the classroom becomes a civilised social environment where children appreciate each other. This is something parents always comment about on tours, they have read the theory but are so surprised to see it in action.
Children learn handwriting and reading by a similar, carefully sequenced process. For instance, children use sandpaper letters and sound games to associate sounds with alphabetic symbols. They naturally develop a sense of quantity by encountering numbers everywhere in their environment, counting snack items, arranging rods by length and then explore a wide range of math materials to further develop their skills.
By the time our children complete the 3 year Cycle 1 Program, they have usually acquired the ability to read full books, can hand write sentences, understand mathematics including addition, subtraction, division and multiplication and are more than ready for primary school.