The Montessori teaching method
Dr. Maria Montessori (1870 - 1952) developed her philosophy of education based upon actual observations of children, complemented by her training in medicine, psychology and anthropology.
The Montessori method of teaching aims for the fullest possible development of the whole child, ultimately preparing him for life's many rich experiences. Children pass through sensitive periods of development early in life.
Encouraged to focus her attention on one particular quality, the child works at her own optimum level – in an environment where beauty and orderliness are emphasized and appreciated. A spontaneous love of "work" is revealed as the child is given the freedom (within boundaries) to make her own choices. Everything in a Montessori classroom has a specific use or purpose. There is nothing in the prepared environment that the child cannot see or touch. All of the furniture and equipment is scaled down to the child's size and is within easy reach.
Montessori teachers are trained facilitators in the classroom, always ready to assist and direct. Their purpose is to stimulate the child's enthusiasm for learning and to guide it, without interfering with the child's natural desire to teach himself and become independent. Each child works through his individual cycle of activities, and learns to truly understand according to his own unique needs and capabilities.
A quality Montessori classroom has a busy, productive atmosphere where joy and respect abound. Within such an enriched environment, freedom, responsibility, and social and intellectual development spontaneously flourish.
Dr. Montessori described the child's mind between the time of birth and six years of age as the "absorbent mind". It is during this stage that a child has a tremendous ability to learn and assimilate from the world around him, without conscious effort. During this time, children are particularly receptive to certain external stimuli. A Montessori teacher recognizes and takes advantage of these highly perceptive stages through the introduction of materials and activities which are specially designed to stimulate the intellect.
The Benefits of Montessori education
- Students are free to learn at their own pace, each advancing through the curriculum as he is ready, guided by the teacher and an individualized learning plan.
- Beginning at an early age, Montessori students develop order, coordination, concentration, and independence. Classroom design, materials, and daily routines support the individual’s emerging “self-regulation” (ability to educate one’s self, and to think about what one is learning), toddlers through adolescents.
- Students are part of a close, caring community. The multi-age classroom—typically spanning 3 years—re-creates a family structure. Older students enjoy stature as mentors and role models; younger children feel supported and gain confidence about the challenges ahead. Teachers model respect, loving kindness, and a belief in peaceful conflict resolution.
- Montessori students enjoy freedom within limits. Working within parameters set by their teachers, students are active participants in deciding what their focus of learning will be. Montessorians understand that internal satisfaction drives the child’s curiosity and interest and results in joyous learning that is sustainable over a lifetime.
- Students are supported in becoming active seekers of knowledge. Teachers provide environments where students have the freedom and the tools to pursue answers to their own questions.
- Self-correction and self-assessment are an integral part of the Montessori classroom approach. As they mature, students learn to look critically at their work, and become adept at recognizing, correcting, and learning from their errors.
- Given the freedom and support to question, to probe deeply, and to make connections, Montessori students become confident, enthusiastic, self-directed learners. They are able to think critically, work collaboratively, and act boldly.
The Montessori model of human development
Montessori education is fundamentally a model of human development, and an educational approach based on that model and has two basic principles:
- Children and developing adults engage in psychological self-construction by means of interaction with their environments.
- Children, especially under the age of six, have an innate path of psychological development.
Maria Montessori saw universal, innate characteristics in human psychology which her son and collaborator, Mario Montessori, identified as "human tendencies" in 1957. They are identified as abstraction , activity, communication, exactness, exploration, manipulation of the environment, order, orientation, repetition, self-perfection, work (also described as "purposeful activity").
In the Montessori approach, these human tendencies are seen as driving behavior in every stage of development, and education should respond to and facilitate their expression.
Montessori's education method called for free activity within a "prepared environment", meaning an educational environment tailored to basic human characteristics, to the specific characteristics of children at different ages, and to the individual personalities of each child. The function of the environment is to allow the child to develop independence in all areas according to his or her inner psychological directives. In addition to offering access to the Montessori materials appropriate to the age of the children, the environment should exhibit the following characteristic:
- 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
Planes of development in teaching the Montessori style
Montessori observed four distinct periods, or "planes", in human development, extending from birth to six years, from six to twelve, from twelve to eighteen, and from eighteen to twenty-four. She saw different characteristics, learning modes, and developmental imperatives active in each of these planes, and called for educational approaches specific to each period.
The first plane extends from birth to around six years of age. During this period, Montessori observed that the child undergoes striking physical and psychological development. The first plane child is seen as a concrete, sensorial explorer and learner engaged in the developmental work of psychological self-construction and building functional independence. Montessori introduced several concepts to explain this work, including the absorbent mind, sensitive periods, and normalization.
Absorbent mind: Montessori described the young child's behavior of effortlessly assimilating the sensorial stimuli of his or her environment, including information from the senses, language, culture, and the development of concepts with the term "absorbent mind". She believed that this is a power unique to the first plane, and that it fades as the child approached age six.
Sensitive periods: Montessori also observed periods of special sensitivity to particular stimuli during this time which she called the "sensitive periods". In Montessori education, the classroom environment responds to these periods by making appropriate materials and activities available while the periods are active in the young child. She identified the following periods and their durations:
- Acquisition of language—from birth to around six years old
- Interest in small objects—from around 18 months to three years old
- Order—from around one to three years old
- Sensory refinement—from birth to around four years old
- Social behavior—from around two and a half to four years old
Normalization: Montessori observed in children from three to six years old a psychological state she termed "normalization". Normalization arises from concentration and focus on activity which serves the child’s developmental needs, and is characterized by the ability to concentrate as well as "spontaneous discipline, continuous and happy work, social sentiments of help and sympathy for others."
The second plane of development extends from around six to twelve years old. During this period, Montessori observed physical and psychological changes in children, and developed a classroom environment, lessons, and materials, to respond to these new characteristics. Physically, she observed the loss of baby teeth and the lengthening of the legs and torso at the beginning of the plane, and a period of uniform growth following. Psychologically, she observed the "herd instinct", or the tendency to work and socialize in groups, as well as the powers of reason and imagination. Developmentally, she believed the work of the second plane child is the formation of intellectual independence, of moral sense, and of social organization.
The third plane of development extends from around twelve to around eighteen years of age, encompassing the period of adolescence. Montessori characterized the third plane by the physical changes of puberty and adolescence, but also psychological changes. She emphasized the psychological instability and difficulties in concentration of this age, as well as the creative tendencies and the development of "a sense of justice and a sense of personal dignity." She used the term "valorization" to describe the adolescents' drive for an externally derived evaluation of their worth. Developmentally, Montessori believed that the work of the third plane child is the construction of the adult self in society.
The fourth plane of development extends from around eighteen years to around twenty-four years old. Montessori wrote comparatively little about this period and did not develop an educational program for the age. She envisioned young adults prepared by their experiences in Montessori education at the lower levels ready to fully embrace the study of culture and the sciences in order to influence and lead civilization. She believed that economic independence in the form of work for money was critical for this age, and felt that an arbitrary limit to the number of years in university level study was unnecessary, as the study of culture could go on throughout a person's life.