Have you only just heard about the Montessori method? We’re not talking about a trendy new style of learning. The Montessori theories of development date back almost 100 years. So what is Montessori?
Montessori is not a ‘what’ but a ‘who’. Montessori was a pretty awesome lady!She was a doctor back in the early 1900s – you know about gender inequality in the workplace nowadays so can you imagine it back then? She was a supporter of equality and fighter against social injustice. She is most well-known for coming up with the idea that all children from all social classes, races and backgrounds all develop at roughly the same rate. This was a huge step in the study of child development.
A bit of background: Maria Montessori
Maria Montessori was born in Chiaravalle, Italy in 1870. She had high aspirations and wanted to be a doctor, despite it being a male-dominant profession. After initially being refused, she was finally accepted into the medical school at the University of Rome in 1890.
She was socially aware, and fought for Women’s Rights and other social injustices. She was also interested I children with learning disabilities and the lack of support provided for them. Montessori opened the “Casa dei Bambini” (house of children) where she provided children with many resources and activities, but let them choose which ones they were interested in. This allowed them to develop at their own pace and educate themselves. Her book “The Montessori Method” was published in over 20 languages as she started to teach her method. Schools and training programmes were opened all around Europe. Dr Montessori moved to India where she taught her method to many teachers. When she returned to Europe she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949.
What is Montessori?
Montessori’s educational approach shows the 4 stages of development and their characteristics and the child’s needs during each stage. The Montessori learning style focuses on child-centered learning. The development of the whole child is important; that includes physical, social, emotional and cognitive development.
Introduction to Montessori
We think it’s normal for all children to do the same things I school, and then worry if our child is falling behind in certain areas. Your child might be great at maths or might prefer arts and crafts. You can try to change their interests, but eventually there may come a point where they follow their own path. You want your child to be the next violin prodigy? They might resent you for this if all they ever wanted was to play football.
Montessori children are independent. They don’t all sit and listen to a teacher and then complete the same tasks and do the same activities. They try different things and focus on what they most enjoy. This allows them to enjoy learning, and continue the things which they are most interested in. They have freedom within limits, meaning that they can’t do whatever they want everywhere it he world, but within the safe environment of the classroom they have a lot of freedom to do what they please, using the Montessori resources provided. The Montessori school program includes peer learning using mixed age groups. Just like in the real world, children must learn to interact with different age groups. This allows them to practice what they have learned by teaching it to younger children, who of course learn from the older children. Next is guided choice; this means being prompted but not told what to do. Montessori school teachers are there to guide the children, to introduce them to new things and then to let them decide what they continue to play with or learn from.
Montessori school materials include objects that can be moved, stacked, built or sorted. They are colorful and make of different materials and textures, all to help the child learn and develop. Materials are not designed to help children just in the classroom, but they will learn things to help them in everyday life, such as tying shoelaces by themselves, handling delicate objects and things from nature. The materials encourage children to use all 5 of their senses.
Planes of development
Infancy – Physical Independence
Up to the age of 6, children have an “absorbent mind” which means they soak up information easily as if their mind was a sponge. For the first 3 years of life, this is unconscious, they mimic behavior and learn without trying. That’s why it’s important to lead by example, because children really do learn from what they see! From the age of 3 they enter the conscious stage. They seek independence, they want to make decisions and do things by themselves. During the first 6 years, adults should aid their children particularly during their “sensitive periods” which is when their interest peaks and there mind is at its most absorbent. Montessori school teachers provide materials and activities appropriate to the child’s particular interest during their sensitive period. Sensitives periods during this developmental stage are often to do with languages, senses and movement.
Childhood – Mental Independence
From ages 6 to 12, children enter the Reasoning Mind Stage. This is all about imagination! By this point, a child has already learned how to speak fluently, move with coordination, has basic intelligence and has already developed their own personality. If you already have children, you may notice they ask “why?” a lot! It may not be ideal for a parent who’s running around trying to get everybody out of the house to answer questions, but asking why is completely normal as they develop a sense of morality and ethics. At this age, children have sensitive periods for peer interaction, justice and of course, imagination.
Adolescence – Social Independence
From 12 to 18 years old, children, now teenagers, develop social consciousness, becoming more self-aware and socially involved. Montessori believed that this was the time for adolescents to learn skills which would improve their independence and community life such as farming, sewing, cooking and building. This is known as Erdkinder or “Earth Children”. In the third plane of Montessori’s developmental theory, children are sensitive to social justice and dignity and may search for a sense of belonging, as well as finding role models.
Maturity – Emotional and Moral Independence
The fourth stage is from 18 to 21 years old, when a teen transitions into an adult. They question things, and must make choices as they seek independence and must choose a profession. By adulthood, we have found the things that interest us and will try to pursue them further. With the skills the developed in the earlier stages, we should be able to find a job we enjoy and achieve the level of independence that we want.
So, that’s the learning style of Montessori and what it’s based on, and you can apply this method from home too. Later we’ll look into how exactly you can raise a Montessori baby, including Montessori bedrooms, I’ll give you a hint – your baby doesn’t need a bed!
To read up on Montessori theories of childhood psychology and education I have some great book recommendations on my page.
I should point out; I’m not a Montessori expert. I’m not a Montessori school teacher nor was I ever a student. I am in now way associated with any Montessori organisation. Her theory of developmental psychology helped us to really understand how children learn, yet we still try to force them to all be the same. With the Montessori philosophy, learning and fun go hand in hand and children are allowed, and encouraged, to focus on the things that interest them. For me, that makes a whole lot of sense.