Step By Step Montessori Schools
The Montessori Method
The Montessori Method of education was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator. Through her research and work, Dr. Montessori concluded that no human being is truly educated by another person. This is particularly true for children. A child’s understanding is gained through their experiences and that in turn creates a natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge which will continue throughout the child’s lifetime. One goal of the Montessori Method is that children should not be filled with facts from a preselected course of studies, but rather have children cultivate their own natural desire to learn.
This desire to learn is experienced in the specially prepared environment within the Children’s House classrooms. Dr. Montessori always emphasized that “the hand is the chief teacher of the child.” In order to learn, there must be concentration, and the best way for a child to concentrate is by fixing their attention on some task the child is performing with their hands. Upon visiting a Children’s House classroom, it is apparent that the Montessori materials are developed in order to create a hands-on experience for each child.
The use of materials is based upon the young child’s unique aptitude for learning which Dr. Montessori defined as the “absorbent mind.” Dr. Montessori often compared the young mind of a child to that of a sponge. A child’s mind literally absorbs information from the environment. This process is particularly noticed in the way a two year old learns his native language without the conscious, tedious effort which an adult must make to master a foreign tongue.
These developmental teaching materials are designed to test understanding, correct errors, and train the child’s mind to think in logical patterns. The well-prepared classroom environment helps the child to be self-disciplined, independent, and to respect the rights of others.
The Montessori Environment
The Montessori environment is a "prepared enviornment." All of the activities and materials, even the physical arrangement of the space, is carefully planned to assist the young child in his or her development. Even the Montessori teacher is part of this prepared environment.
Each material has a purpose. The role of the teacher is to connect the child with the materials at the right time and in such a way as to speak the child's interest in the activity. If this is successful, the child will spontanteously repear the activity as much as he or she needs to satisfy an inner need for development. The child learns and develops through using these materials.
The teacher in the Montessori environment is an observer, looking to see what the child repeats, what the child is interested in and when the child is ready for something. The teacher gives the children presentations, which are demonstrations of how to use the materials appropriately so that the child gets out of the material what is intended. The Montessori teacher is not a teacher in the traditional sense of being a transmitter of knowledge. Rather, the Montessori teacher considers her role to assist the child in his and her development and learning.
In the Montessori classroom we "follow the child." This means to follow the child's interests, to assist the child in overcoming difficulties, and to help the child develop his or her potential. The child is an independent learner in the Montessori classroom. In fact, one of the goals is to help the child to become independent. We allow the children to wash their own hands, to choose the activities they want to work with, to choose where and with whome they wish to work.
Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, said, "the sense are the gateways to the intelligence. There is nothing in the intellect that did not first pass through the senses." All knowledge comes to us through our sense- sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, etc. The sensorial materials are used in the Montessori classroom to refine the child's sensory awareness in order to help his intellectual development.
The Montessori sensory materials are highly accurate materials in metric measurements. The smallest cube of the pink tower, for instance, is exactly one centimeter cubed, the largest 10 centimeters. The longest red rod is exactly one meter, and the shortest 10 centimeters.
The sensory materials also isolate particular abstract concepts and make them "concrete." Dr. Montessori designed these materials to lead the child's mind to focus on one particular physical quality, such as color, size, shape or weight. She did this by making all of the other characteristics of the material the same, and changing only one.
All of the sensory materials are repeatable activities, and have multiple extended activities to maintain the child's interest. By using these materials many times, the child internalizes a physical and intellectual impression of the different sizes, shapes, sounds, etc. This helps prepare the child for later intellectual development in writing, reading and math.
The Montessori method starts with oral language development. The child at this stage wants to know the names of everything. Later, the child will want to know more about things, but now the child wants to know what . Oral language is the foundation for development of writing and reading. In the Montessori environment, we do many activities to help develop the child's vocabulary and awareness of sounds in words to prepare the child for reading and writing.
In the Montessori method, we emphasize the sound that letters make rather than the names of the letters to help the children sound out words phonetically. We start with the most common sound of each letter, using the sandpaper letters to give the child a visual, tactile and auditory impression of each letter. The sandpaper letters are in lowercase because these are used with the most frequency in written language.
Once the child can remember the sound of many letters, we proceed to writing with the movable alphabet. This allows the child to write even before he/she has the physical coordination to write the letters easily with a pencil. At the same time, we work on helping the child to develop his/her physical coordination with using a pencil through use of the metal insets.
Most young children develop the ability to read after they are able to write. This is because it is harder to decode something that someone else has written than it is for the child to sound out the words he/she already has in her or her head. Because of this, we usually start the reading activities after the child develops some confidence in 'writing' with the movable alphabet.
The cultural activities in the Montessori classroom include Art, Music, Science and Geography. At this age, the child understands things in a very concrete way. We offer these activities through pictures, stories, songs, games and hands on activities.
The Montessori cultural curriculum is very global. In fact, we begin the geography lessons with a model of the world, using a globe that has only the continents either in sandpaper or colored continents. We then proceed to discover countries through the puzzle maps, geography pictures, stories, and flags. We explore the world through things that the child can understand, such as people, food, animals, and plants.
Art is given in the Montessori classroom both as an opportunity to experience different types of mediums and expression, as well as an introduction to art appreciation.
Music is done in much the same way, letting the child participate in singing, playing and exploring different types of music. We also will have opportunities to listen to different types of music and to hear music from different composers and performers.
In the science area, we explore the natural world of plants and animals and non-living things, and help the children to classify things that they already know. For exaple, we help children to learn differences between mammals, birds and reptiles. We learn about the inderdependency of nature and the importance of taking care of the earth.
The Montessori classroom uses math materials developed specifically for the Montessori method. The math materials give the child first a physical impression of the mathematical concept. Because of these physical materials, even young children can grasp abstract math concepts.
Each math activity starts with the physical quantity concept first, and then we show the child how these quantities and concepts are written. For example, we show and let the child work with the number rods to see and feel what each number is like before we show them how each number is written. Or we show the child addition through physical materials first to help the child understand the concept. Only after the child understands the physical concept do we proceed to show the child how this is written in mathematical language.
The Montessori math materials in the preschool classroom progress from very concrete to eventually more abstract. Concepts covered in the Montessori preschool classroom are quantity, counting, the four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division), and fractions. Memorization is helped by having different materials and activities to practice the same concepts.
The Practical Life activities are things we do around our homes that young children see every day, but usually cannot do at home. In the Montessori environment, we use child sized materials (not toys) to enable the children to do these activities. Through "analysis of movement", a careful presentation is given by the Montessori teacher, through whihc the child can see all of the movements involved in these activities and can overcome the difficulties of these activities. Then, through repetition of the activity, the child comes to master these activities. This gives the child great satisfaction, while helping the child to develop coordination of movement. Practical Life activities are very important to the young child to develop coordination of movement, very attractive to the young child, not because they are interested so much in the end result like adults (a clean house, for instance), but for the activity itself. The child has a need to master his/her physical movements. He/she has a strong drive to imitate things he sees adults and older children do in the home. The will at this stage is so strong that the child almost cannot disobey this internal urge to try to do things. THe Montessori method provides for this need through theh practical life activities.