“Montessori” is an educational philosophy and pedagogy (pedagogy=teaching method) developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, in the first half of the 20th century. Dr. Montessori wrote and spoke extensively about ages birth through six, although she and her collaborators expanded to older ages as well.
Dr. Montessori based her ideas on observations of children, and she shifted the paradigm of children from passive receptors to active, curious investigators. To use an analogy, children are not empty vessels in need of filling but candles in need of a spark.
Montessorians like to make things confusing by employing their own lingo. Instead of “teachers” they say “guides.” Instead of “classroom” they use “environment.” Instead of “lesson” they say “presentation.” And they dispense with the traditional idea of grades. Instead, children progress from Nido (for infants), to Toddlers (self-explanatory), to Children’s House (ages 3-6), to Elementary One (ages 6-9), and then to Elementary Two (ages 9-12).
Today, Montessori schools proliferate around the world. Many are private, and the majority focus on early childhood. There are no requirements for a school that calls itself “Montessori,” but you should expect to find the following principles at play when you visit a Montessori classroom environment:
Individualized Learning- Rather than having everyone learn the same thing at the same time, children receive individual or small-group instruction, thus individualizing their learning experience. Guides strive to “follow the child,” identifying and responding to their academic needs and interests.
Mixed Ages- Each environment contains a range of ages. This provides a more authentic social experience where experienced leaders help newcomers and avoids the tumult of changing environments on a yearly basis.
Hands-On Educational Materials- Dr. Montessori developed beautiful, scientifically-designed learning materials that teach everything from colors and size to place value and parts of speech. Hands-on materials make concepts accessible to young children and provide a conceptual understanding.
Focus on Practical Life Skills- Montessori environments promote practical life skills such as food preparation, cleaning, getting dressed, sewing, hammering, and so forth. This helps build children’s independence and helps them feel capable.
Montessori in the Home
Montessori philosophy has applications beyond schools. Parents and caretakers can bring Montessori principles into the home by designing an environment that meets the needs of their child, emphasizing practical life skills and independence, and providing beautiful hands-on materials.