“Education is not what the teacher gives: education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the individual, and is acquired not by listening to words, but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Doing so, he/she will witness the unfolding of a new adult who will not be the victim of events, but will have clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society.” – Maria Montessori
“Education is the help we must give to life so that it may develop in the greatness of its powers. To help those great forces which bring the child, inert at birth, unintelligent and unsympathetic, to the greatness of the adult being—this should be the plan of education—to see what help we can give. Before we help, we must understand; we must follow the path from childhood to adulthood. If we can understand, we can help, and this help must be the plan of education: to help develop not humans’ defects, but their greatness.”
(Montessori 2012, p. 6)
The Montessori approach to education is based upon the work of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, and was introduced in the United States in the early 1900′s. The basic principles of this approach address the needs of a child’s development with the use of concrete, manipulation materials in a sequence that moves towards greater abstraction. The materials are displayed in a prepared environment that is arranged in ways, which will encourage certain kinds of behavior in each area. This careful arrangement allows the child to experience “mobility within limits” so that he/she can learn to control his/her body and to respect the work of others by moving carefully and purposefully. Children are encouraged to work together in a multi-age classroom (two or three grade levels), which enhances their ability to learn from each other.
The Montessori materials are organized into different areas such as sensorial and practical life activities, math, language, and cultural subjects. However, these subjects are presented in an integrated fashion so that the child may see the natural relationships between them.
The practical life materials help the child to develop his/her ability to use small tools (tweezers, needles, and thread), and care for the classroom environment. The sensorial materials are designed to aid the child’s growing perceptions of his/her surroundings. The materials isolate and refine the sense of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. These materials also give the child concrete experiences which are the “building blocks” for abstraction in language, math, and cultural subjects as the child grows older.
The Montessori language program begins with the prepared environment. The open, decentralized design encourages children to talk to one another, to work together, and to practice speaking and listening skills in all areas of language arts. Textbooks for reading, spelling, and language are also used in a combination of direct instruction and individual work.
The cultural subject’s curriculum consists of history, geography, and physical and life sciences. The history curriculum begins with the study of time and its representation. The children learn how to create and use timelines as they study various cultures, both ancient and modern. As children study the history of life on earth, they are also introduced to map work and land and water formations. The science curriculum begins in the primary grades with the development and classification of plants and animals. As in other areas of the curriculum, these lessons are presented with an “impressionistic” style; one which is dramatic and leaves a lasting impression with the child.
The Montessori philosophy expresses the idea that the child’s confidence and motivation are built upon success. The program values the practice of “isolating the difficulty” in presenting and evaluating any given activity. Just as the teacher presents skills such a penmanship, grammar, and spelling in isolation, a finished product is evaluated for its specific purpose. For example when a child creates an original piece of writing, the teacher may note spelling and penmanship errors, but will only evaluate the piece on its content. Later, those penmanship and spelling errors will be specifically addressed during the penmanship and spelling exercises. As the children move into the intermediate grades, they are expected to combine those skills into a finished product, rather than exposed to perfecting one skill at a time, eventually producing a perfect finished product, they are also free to express themselves creatively.