The Montessori Experience

To those of you new to Montessori, we would like to offer the rationale behind your child's experiences at school.  It has often been said that the difference between a Montessori school and traditional schools is not so much what is taught as how it is taught.

Traditional schools tend to have a limited or set curriculum, adhere to a timetable of lesson plans and teach to the group rather than having students work on their own.  In contrast, Montessori believed that the real purpose of education should be to have schools and classrooms in which each child in his own way can satisfy his curiosity, develop his abilities and talents, pursue his interests, and from the adults and older children around him, get a glimpse of the great variety and richness of life.

Montessori education is both a philosophy of child development and a rationale for guiding such development.  There are four elements to the Montessori method:  auto-education using didactic materials; individual education; a prepared environment and the Directress.

Auto-Education.  The main idea of the Montessori method is recognition of the fact that no person is ever educated by another.  He must do it himself or it will never be done.  The young child possesses an unusual sensitivity for absorbing and learning from his environment.  He has a deep love and need for purposeful work.  (And in fact, when children are purposefully engaged, a lot of misbehavior disappears.)  However, there is a distinction between the work of an adult and that of a child.  An adult works to reach some goal.  A child's objective is the work itself.  He is interested in each detail, not the outcome.

Didactic Materials.  Montessori uses specially designed materials in the classroom.  Didactic simply means intended to instruct.  The purpose of the materials is first, to stimulate the child's natural desire to learn through action; second, to provide him with action which will give him better control of his own body and will power; and third, to lead him naturally from a simple task to a more difficult one. The child must spontaneously take an interest in the materials before learning can occur.  Thus, the materials are as simple and attractive as possible.  They are well made and well maintained.  Nothing is broken or missing.  Although there is only one piece of each type of apparatus, there is an abundance of materials so there is something for every child.  Materials are grouped according to the interest they appeal to, and are arranged in sequence as to their difficulty or degree of complication.  They are real objects, not toys.  There are five general categories of materials- practical life, sensorial, language, mathematics, and cultural subjects (geography, science, music, art, etc.).  But it is not the preoccupation with the material that is most important- it is the inner growth, which accompanies it.  This is why spontaneous repetition is so valuable.  A child is not content to use the materials only once.  He feels the need to repeat.  He is acquiring a new power of perception, enabling him to see what he did not at first notice.  The child must be allowed the freedom to go on repeating the experience as long as he likes so that his inner growth has time to take place.  The Montessori materials capture the child's attention and initiate a process of concentration.  The materials progress from simple to complex and are designed to prepare the child indirectly for future learning.

Individual Education.  Montessori realized that children are all different and therefore need the greatest possible liberty for their individuality to grow.  This individuality is respected and safeguarded.  Thus, there are seldom collective lessons in a Montessori classroom.  Children may work on different tasks at the same time or the same task at different times.  The child is not held to the pace or interests of the teacher or other children.  He competes only with himself.  The impulse to learn comes from within the child; consequently, rewards and punishments are unnecessary.  Lessons are brief, concise and simple.  The directresses do not follow a curriculum that has to be finished by a given point in time.  Rather, she takes her cues from the child, providing appropriate challenges when the child indicates he is ready, so that the child meets success with a minimum of frustration.

A Prepared Environment.  The most apparent difference between the traditional classroom and the Montessori classroom is the physical setting.  Children of differing ages are included in the same class.  The room is functionally arranged, enabling the children to move and develop freely.  There is nothing that the children cannot touch, for this is how they learn.  There is casual interaction between children and between a child and the directress.  There is no formal schedule.  There are also things of beauty in the room to satisfy the aesthetic sense.  There is a sense of structure and order; everything has a permanent place.  Freedom of movement is an integral feature of the environment.  Children move about as they select their work, as they work with the materials, and as they return the materials to the shelves.  Children are helped to perfect their own movements through exercises in muscular coordination and as they move among the furnishings they learn to correct any awkward movements.  The physical environment appears to run itself after the children are initially introduced to the room.  Careful thought is given to the spatial arrangement so that a lot of misbehavior is eliminated.

The Directress.  Montessori called the adult a "directress" because she directs the child's activity in the room.  She is not to be confused with a "teacher" who teaches each step of every process or directly instructs.  The duty of the directress is not to solve all the difficulties in the way of the child... but on the contrary to see that each child is kept constantly supplied with difficulties suitable to his strength.  It is her responsibility to help the child to help himself.  The directress is the vital link between the child and the prepared environment.  She has a secondary role.  She designs and cares for the furnishings and the materials.  She matches the materials to the child's inner needs.  To function as a directress requires the complete avoidance of center stage.  The directress is a protectress of the child's right to learn.  She is constantly alert to the direction in which the child has indicated he wishes to go, and she actively seeks ways to help him accomplish his goals. If you have any questions about what we discussed above or with understanding the Montessori philosophy, feel free to contact us. 

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