Principles of Montessori Education
There are several Montessori principles that must be implemented for a Montessori program to be considered authentic. Essential Montessori principles include: respect for the child, sensitive periods, the absorbent mind, and the prepared environment. In addition, a full complement of Montessori material, and a dedicated Montessori work cycle are especially important for a successful Montessori program. The key attributes of a Montessori program are explained below.
1. Respect for the child
Respect for the child is the cornerstone on which all other Montessori principles rest. Maria Montessori believed that all children should be treated with respect: “Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to use by reason of their innocence and the greater possibilities of their future.” Therefore, respect is incorporated into every aspect of the Montessori learning environment. Teachers show respect for children by providing them with the opportunity to do, think, and learn for themselves. Through freedom of choice, children are able to develop the skills and abilities needed to become confident learners. As a result, Montessori children are independent, and are respectful of their environment and others.
2. The Sensitive Periods
Maria Montessori believed that children pass through specific stages in their development when they are most willing and able to learn specific skills and knowledge. She referred to these blocks of time as ‘sensitive periods.’ These periods can be identified through a change in behavior, such as intense interest or repetition of an activity. To support children’s sensitive periods for learning, the Montessori program incorporates a three-hour work cycle. During this time, children have the opportunity to work on activities without interruptions. As a result, children follow their natural interests, and progress naturally. In the Montessori classroom, the role of the teacher is to be a skilled observer of sensitive periods. Based on these observations, the Montessori teacher guides children towards activities and materials that are suited to their stage of development. In effect, this supportive creates the optimal environment for learning.
3. The Absorbent Mind
Montessori believed that the first six years of life are crucial to the development of the child. In her research, Montessori refers to this period of development as the ‘absorbent mind,’ which describes the period of time when the child’s mind readily absorbs information from the world around them. The first phase of the absorbent mind occurs from birth to age three, and is known as the period of ‘unconscious creation.’ During this time, children learn to walk, talk and develop their sense of self through experiences with their environment. From the ages of three to six, children move into the second phase of development, known as the ‘conscious absorbent mind.’ Most significant about this period, is that children begin to actively seek out experiences that will help them to develop their intelligence, coordination, and independence.
4. Mixed Age Groupings
In Montessori, it is common for students to be grouped with children within a three-year age range. This structure to the Montessori environment encourages older children to take on leadership roles, and for younger children to learn through imitation. In addition, mixed age classes teach children how to engage socially with both younger and older children. In effect, mixed age class groups lead to imitative learning, peer tutoring, and mixed-age team work.
5. The Prepared Environment
Doctor Maria Montessori conducted extensive research into children and their development throughout her lifetime. She determined that children learn best in a prepared environment where they have freedom of movement and independent choice. Consequently, Montessori prepared environments are child-centred learning spaces that makes the educational experience available in an orderly format. Montessori materials are displayed in progression order from left to right within their specific curriculum area. The goal of the Montessori classroom is to create a harmonious learning space that encourages independent learning. Elements of a prepared environment include: freedom, structure, order, beauty, nature and the integration of the social and intellectual aspects of child development.
6. The Curriculum Areas
The Montessori curriculum is divided into five key areas of learning, including: practical life, sensorial, mathematics, language and culture. The curriculum emphasises that learning is a developmental process that cannot be determined by a child’s age. As a result, the learning process is instead viewed as a process that is determined by the rate and speed that a child can acquire one skills or knowledge area before they progress to the next. Find out more about the Montessori Curriculum.
7. The Montessori Materials
Montessori materials are sensory based learning tools that are designed to teach children through hands-on experience. Especially relevant, is that each material is designed with an inbuilt control of error. In effect, this unique design allows children to discover the outcome of the learning material independent of an adult. Due to the self-correcting aspect of the materials, children are encouraged to organise their thinking. In addition, they learn to problem solve in a clear way, and absorb the outcome of the material, under the careful guidance of their teachers.
8. The Role of the Teacher
Montessori teachers are not the centre of attention in the classroom. Rather, their role centres on the preparation of learning materials to meet the needs and interests of the children in their class. Essentially, the focus is on children learning, not on teachers teaching. Montessori believed that the teacher should focus on the child as a person, rather than on the daily lesson plan. Although the Montessori teacher plans daily lessons for each child, they must be alert to changes in the child’s interest, progress, mood, and behaviour. Maria Montessori believed: “It is necessary for the teacher to guide the child without letting him feel her presence too much, so that she may be always ready to supply the desired help, but may never be the obstacle between the child and his experience.”