The importance of early childhood education to children’s lives is beyond question. A good beginning to life is well recognised as the foundation for future development, health and wellbeing, not only in the early years, but also throughout life. Recent scientific studies have proven that children’s learning and mental development begins immediately after birth, and continues for the rest of their lives, but not at the same intensity that is demonstrated in the preschool years. With this in mind, infants, toddlers and preschoolers need positive early learning experiences that will lay the foundations for their intellectual, social and emotional development, and later school success. So how does Montessori based early childhood education prepare children for school and later life?
1. Key Developmental Stages
Montessori is a scientific method of education that is focused on the key developmental stages that all children move through on their way to adulthood. In each of these stages, children are in a sensitive period for learning different skills and activities that will help them reach their next developmental milestone. Doctor Maria Montessori believed that if children were provided with the opportunities to explore and practice these skills, they would make extraordinary progress. This is why the Montessori method of education has been designed around the unique development needs of the child. The Montessori curriculum, classroom structure, and learning materials have been tested, refined, evaluated, and proven across age groups, countries, and cultures to support and nurture the full developmental potential of the child.
2. Social Development and Collaboration
In a Montessori classroom, children are grouped with different ages and are encouraged to collaborate and help each other. This structure to the learning environment encourages children to share and work cooperatively to explore different areas of the Montessori curriculum. Based on the nature of the classroom environment, children learn to respect each other, develop the skills of collaborative problem solving, and build a sense of community.
3. Child Centred, Teacher Guided
The Montessori classroom is a prepared learning environment where children are free to choose from a range of developmentally appropriate activities. Teachers in the Montessori classroom are there to guide and facilitate the learning experience. They take the lead from the children in the classroom, ensure the ground rules are followed, and encourage children to work independently and at their own pace. Allowing children to direct their own learning enables them to learn in an enjoyable way and develop an enthusiasm for learning, along with self-discipline, independence and positive self-esteem.
4. Self-Assessment and Intrinsic Motivation
Self-correction and self-assessment are an integral part of the Montessori learning experience. As children progress through the education program, they learn to look critically at their work, recognise and correct their mistakes, and learn from their errors. By providing children with the freedom to question, probe deeply, and make connections, Montessori students learn to become confident, self-motivated learners that have an intrinsic love of learning. In this way, Montessori education cultivates engaged learners with a positive and confident approach to life-long learning.
5. Learning for Life
Research conducted by a group of Psychologists in the US, published in the 2006 journal Science, examined the abilities of children taught at a Montessori school compared to a systemic school. The research determined that children who attended Montessori schools were more creative, socially adjusted, and had the ability to adapt to changing and complex problems, which have been seen as predictors of future school and life success. In addition, the research determined that 5-year-old Montessori students were better prepared for reading and math, and that 12-year-olds’ wrote ‘significantly more creative essays’ using more ‘sophisticated sentence structures’. Montessori children also displayed a greater sense of ‘justice and fairness’, interacted in an ‘emotionally positive way’, and were less likely to engage in ‘rough play’ during break times.
In summary, Montessori education cultivates children’s natural desire to learn and achieve their full potential by providing them with the foundations for future growth. Montessori graduates range from the founders of Google and Amazon.com, to Rhodes scholars and artists, through to well-adjusted goal-orientated professionals. Doctor Maria Montessori’s understanding of how and why children learn allows the Montessori classroom to create an excellent foundation for children’s learning that opens the doors to education for life.