The Montessori approach
The Montessori approach to education has three key components; the child, the teacher and the environment. The relationship between all three is dynamic and will evolve based on careful observation.
Montessori teachers recognise and build upon the unique qualities and strengths of each individual child. They understand their stages of development and have learned to recognise the child’s readiness to pass through them. Through these observations the teacher is able to provide appropriate learning opportunities for each child tailored specifically to their needs. The environment and the materials within it are a key factor in spontaneous learning. Children are active learners – they rarely sit waiting to be presented with an activity. It is the role of the teacher to ensure that the environment provides materials and activities appropriate to the development needs of each individual child and to guide the child towards them when appropriate. The teacher acts as a catalyst in the child’s development while the materials within the environment scaffold the child’s learning.
Maria Montessori believed that learning is holistic, not necessarily organized into lessons or subjects, and a child needs an adult who is able to respond to their investigations whenever they occur. A responsive teacher will listen, observe and guide the child toward a discovery whilst acting as a role model for new skills and behaviours.
The activities in a Montessori classroom have clearly defined aims and learning outcomes. These activities represent the curriculum; a curriculum which is driven by the interests of the individual supported by the teacher. The classroom will be laid out according to the original Montessori areas of learning:
Practical Life skills
Language and Literacy
Numeracy and Mathematics
Cultural Understanding (history, geography, biology and science)
Creativity (music, movement, art)
Much of the original Montessori philosophy and method is now evident in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum and it is widely recognised that the Montessori curriculum properly implemented is entirely consistent with the EYFS Early Learning Goals.
The magic of Montessori schools
Children who are treated with respect, and who are encouraged to try new things, learn more readily to do things for themselves. A child who feels respected and competent will develop a far greater level of self-esteem and emotional well being than a child who has everything done for them.
Educational success is directly tied to the degree to which the child believes they are a capable and independent human being. When children develop a meaningful degree of independence, they set a pattern for a lifetime of good work habits, self-discipline and a sense of responsibility.
In a Montessori classroom there are some basic ground rules about behaviour and respect for others and the environment. Beyond these, the children are free to choose whatever activity they wish and then to work with it for as long as they want to. All of the materials are carefully selected for their educational quality and most are graded in difficulty in order to continually provide new challenge. Much of the time children will start to work with materials which capture their interest at that time. Then teachers will help to extend their learning in this area by guiding them towards new challenges and new areas of enquiry. They may focus entirely in one curriculum area for days, or even weeks, until some developmental breakthrough has been achieved. Then, without explanation, they will move onto something new and approach that with the same enthusiasm and concentration. Children are taught to manage their own community and they develop strong independence and leadership skills. For example, finished materials must be put back where they belong, ready for the next child to use.