Summary: The Montessori Method is an approach to learning which emphasizes active learning, independence, cooperation, and learning in harmony with each child’s unique pace of development.
Originator: Maria Montessori (1870-1952), Italian teacher and physician
Keywords: absorbent mind, sensitive period, prepared environment, autoeducation, planes of development
The Montessori Method is an approach to education which emphasizes individuality and independence in learning. Children are seen as inherently curious and learning driven. Thus, education is viewed as a process which should occur in harmony with the child’s individual developmental pace. It is a holistic approach emphasizing all aspects of development, rather than on attaining specific pieces of information.
Maria Montessori developed her educational method based on a few main premises:
Respect for the child- Montessori believed that adults seldom truly respect children. Adults expect children to be disciplined and force information on them from above. The Montessori approach allows children choices, thus preparing them to become independent learners. Children discover the world around them through a hands on approach, rather than the information being landed upon them from above. This promotes enthusiasm and curiosity driven learning.
The Absorbent Mind- Children are constantly learning in an inherent process of their everyday life. What the child absorbs depends largely on what types of information and experiences cross their paths. Montessori classrooms allow free exploration and learning in uninterrupted blocks of time, in order to get the most out of their learning experiences.
Sensitive periods-Children become ripe to learn different types of skills at specific points in their development. The age at which each sensitive period occurs varies from one child to another. Teachers must be acutely aware of when the right time is to introduce concepts to each individual child.
The prepared environment- A major factor which sets apart Montessori classrooms are their physical organization. Montessori believed that classrooms should be filled with readily available and well organized learning materials. The environment should be aesthetically pleasing, and only include things that the teacher wants the child to experience. This environment should contain materials that children from different ages, characteristics, and interests could all engage in.
Autoeducation-Montessori believed that children should educate themselves, thus developing skills necessary for life. This can occur once the teachers has prepared an appropriate learning environment and gives choices. Autoeducation can be seen as the goal of this method. Children often learn in multi-age groups, thus able to assist each other in their learning processes.
Planes of development
Montessori incorporated these premises into a child development theory. Throughout development children progress through four planes, each with unique physical and psychological developments. Thus, each plane necessitates their environment to change accordingly and offer appropriate learning experiences. The Montessori Method is differentially applied according to where the child is situated in the planes of development.
Infancy (birth-6 years) This stage is characterized by the Absorbent Mind and Sensitive Periods. These two aspects work together and cause an unparalleled ability for learning. Learning is intense and enlightening. During the first three years of life infants learn through their senses, in what is called an unconscious Absorbent Mind. During the second three years children learn consciously through active hands on experience. Learning will take place when they are allowed to do things on their own.
Childhood (6-12 years) This stage is characterized by stability, having acquired most of the basic skills he will need. Children grow out of their Absorbent Mind, and learn through cognitive reasoning and imagination. Children are driven to understand the world around them, how things work, and why. This is the time to learn most factual information, as adolescence brings a decline in this learning drive. The sensitive period of this age group centers on social acceptance, and the development of a value system.
Adolescence (12-18 years) At this point, adolescents present a decline in energy, and do not want to be bombarded with learning information. Thus, learning should be connected to every-day living skills. Although Montessori never developed this stage into a practical learning system, she dreamed to create schools which were actually self sustaining communities, where through working on activities, such as growing their own food, planning meals, building houses and designing clothing, learning would occur naturally. In this way, adolescents would come better prepared to adapt to the adult world, by becoming independent and learning to live in harmony with others.
Transition to adulthood (18-24 years) This stage is characterized by career exploration and beginnings stages of careers. If the individual acquired the necessary cognitive and social skills in the previous stages then he will be able to make exact and satisfying careers choices.
Montessori teachers have quite a different role than those of classic educational methods. The teacher is less prominent. She is there to be an aid in the child’s independent learning process. The teacher decides which learning materials will be available and how they will be organized. She then takes a step back, allows free exploration, and is there to give guidance and a helping hand. Simultaneously, she is an active observer, assessing when children have reached sensitive periods where new concepts may be introduced.