DISCLAIMER: I could literally talk about Montessori for hours at a time and it still wouldn’t be enough. This is a very short, very chopped explanation on what it is all about. For more extensive information and explanations, please check out the suggested reading list.
The Montessori Method and Philosophy is concerned with the education of the whole child. It is not just concerned with academic achievements like the various common/contemporary standardized educational philosophies or approaches.
Education is defined as “the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction.” The Montessori Method strives to guide children to learn the answers to their many questions spontaneously, so it is intrinsically internalized. Maria states, “The person who is developing freely and naturally arrives at a spiritual equilibrium in which he is master of his actions.”
The Montessori classroom reflects something very much akin to a home and is often referred to as the Children’s House. In this environment, you will not see children locked behind desks in tiny tight rows forced to sit passively and listen actively to a teacher prattle on and on. In fact, Maria Montessori said that “the greatest sign of success for a teacher…is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.'” With proper organization and presentation of the environment and modeling from the Guide, a space is created that is inadvertently controlled by the adult but independently led by the child. In this environment, you do not need to force the child to be attentive since they will find that spontaneous curiosity to work themselves and become engaged.
“When you have solved the problem of controlling the attention of the child, you have solved the entire problem of its education.”
Lessons that can be found in the environment include (but are not limited to):
- Development of Language
- Stereognostic Sense
- Fine Motor Development
- Gross Motor Development
- Grace & Courtesy
- Practical Life
- Care of the Person
- Care of the Environment
- Movement & Music
- Art & Self Expression
Education, is not “something which the teacher does” rather it is the “natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being.” The Montessori Method of education is based on scientific observations which Dr. Maria Montessori conducted throughout her life. She developed a sensorial based learning philosophy which coincides with the natural periods of development for the child. The promotion of independence in the child is another key pillar of Montessori philosophy as well as the practice of grace and courtesy.
One of the basic principles of Montessori is to “follow the child”. The environment is set up in various sections where the child is free to choose, explore, and spontaneously begin working. Children are given initial lessons to learn how to use the materials, and the entire scheduling structure is based off of a modeled and practiced cycle which gently encourages the child rather than confines them. With all materials being available at all times, all areas welcome to the child, all furniture and structures framed around the size for the use of the child, education can then be used as “a work of self-organization by which [they] can adapt [themselves] to the conditions of life.” You’re not preparing them for the next test. You’re preparing them for life.
One of my favorite key elements of the Montessori classroom is that the materials are real and natural. This promotes treating materials with reverence and proper care.
Children are not given toy instruments, but real ones. A real flute is heavy and cold, and the teacher can show how it makes beautiful music. Plastic is out of the question! Dishes are breakable and beautiful as a built in control for care. A teacher doesn’t need to chastise a student for breaking something since the loud shatter and loss of the beautiful object is consequence enough.
Children are not grouped together based on age for the convenience of processing, but are grouped together based on their developmental stage. The infant-toddler community is designed for children 0 to 3 years old, the primary community is structured for children around ages 3 to 6, and the elementary environment is compromised of children around 6 to 12.
Maria Montessori believed that “the purpose of life is to obey the hidden command which ensures harmony among all and creates an even better world. We are not created only to enjoy the world, we are created in order to evolve the cosmos.” She continues to say that “[i]t is by developing the individual that he is prepared for that wonderful manifestation of the human intelligence.”
So in short, that’s what Montessori is all about. Guiding that incredible human being throughout crucial developmental periods to support them in becoming incredible human adults. We help the child act for themselves, think for themselves, be themselves, while also considering others. The fault of an adult can be reflected upon and we may learn that at one point during their childhood it could have been prevented. Too selfish? Too co-dependent? No initiative? A bit sociopathic? Doesn’t know how to communicate their frustrations? Hates working and is lazy? Doesn’t know how to cook? Couldn’t care less about anything? Wastes away in front of the boob-tube? Doesn’t know how to clean a dish? Extremely selfish and stupid but also has a lot of Presidential power? Maria’s got a thought on that too:
“Establishing lasting peace is the work of education, all politics can do is keep us out of war.”
To mock the phrase “Ya’ll need Jesus”….”Ya’ll need Montessori.”
An education “capable of saving humanity” is no small undertaking. It requires that we truly internalize the philosophies and practices. We must as parents, care providers, and citizens of the world become better people ourselves. We must model and practice what we preach, for the absorbent mind of the child will sense any falsehood. In today’s rush-hurry-go-go-go nature, this can be really hard. But we didn’t really sign up to be parents or teachers because it was easy.
Okay people, let’s make some people.
Some good people.