“If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man's future.”
― Maria Montessori
What is Montessori?
Montessori teaching is a scientific way of being committed to laws of nature with children to support their true natural development. This distinctive new education first emerged from the scientific research and discoveries of Dr. Maria Montessori while observing young children in Rome, Italy in the early 1900’s.
In 1907, Dr. Montessori observed young children given freedom to interact with a variety of self-teaching materials. In this way, she discovered they changed from the ordinary pattern of disorder, inattention and fantasy to a totally new state of spontaneous self-discipline, love of order, peace, attachment to reality and complete harmony with the environment. The consistency of this transformation led her to conclude that she had discovered the child’s true normal way of being. She referred to this transformation as normalization, and the new children as normalized.
After 1907 until her death in 1952, she sought to help others bring about this same new reality in normalized children by following an approach of scientific education which eventually came to be known as Montessori teaching. Since Dr. Montessori never detailed the particulars of her approach, would-be practitioners soon became confused and frustrated in trying to put it into practice. Many sought guidance by rigidly following Dr. Montessori’s direct advice and personality as a model. Others simply accommodated Montessori teaching to the conventional philosophy, beliefs, and standards of their own particular culture. However, since neither of these types of personality or culture Montessori teaching exactly duplicated Dr. Montessori’s original scientific experiment, they couldn’t fully bring about the same normalizing phenomenon or effects.
In 1979, a new understanding of Montessori teaching emerged, showing how to bring about the child’s true nature as Dr. Montessori discovered in 1907. This true natural Montessori teaching follows laws of nature, rather than the limited types committed to either personality of culture. True natural Montessori teaching functions to control the environment, not the child, viewing the child as an unknown spiritual being and the environment as everything around that child, consisting of other children, physical objects, and adult personality. Controlling the environment means to experimentally remove its various detrimental influences by various experimental actions according to observable changes in the children’s outward behavior.
In 2003, a specific technology emerged to implement true natural Montessori teaching, consisting of a series of techniques, protocols, lesson presentations, and safe words. Using this technology, anyone can now consciously conduct Montessori teaching to bring about the child’s true nature in a reliable, objective manner that was never possible before.
The Montessori learning environment is much different than the traditional model. Instead of information passing from the teacher to the student, the teacher is skilled in putting the child in touch with the environment, and helping him learn to make intelligent choices and to carry out research in a prepared environment. The teacher then protects the student's concentration from interruption. This fosters a love of lifetime learning in the student. Keep in mind a triangle: the student, the parent or teacher, and the environment. It is the role of the adult to prepare, and continue to prepare, the environment, to link the child to it through well-thought-out introductions to books and materials, projects, and lessons, which nurture the child's exploration and creativity. Children thus taught often surpass both the level of education of their peers, and the knowledge of the adult in all areas -- then they learn to find answers for themselves. The Montessori school environment is arranged according to subject area -- cooking, cleaning, gardening, art, caring for animals, library corner, etc. -- children always free to move around the room instead of staying at desks. There is no limit to how long a child can work on something she has chosen. At any one time in a day all subjects -- practical work, math, language, science, history, geography, art, music, etc. -- will be being studied, at all levels, by children of mixed ages learning from each other, facilitated by careful observation, individual lessons, record keeping, and help of the teacher.
The Montessori Materials
In the Montessori classroom, learning materials are arranged invitingly on low, open shelves. Children may choose whatever materials they would like to use and may work for as long as the material holds their interest. When they are finished with each material, they return it to the shelf from which it came.
The materials themselves invite activity. There are bright arrays of solid geometric forms, knobbed puzzle maps, colored beads, and various specialized rods and blocks.
Each material in a Montessori classroom isolates one quality. In this way, the concept that the child is to discover is isolated. For example, the material known as the pink tower is made up of ten pink cubes of varying sizes. The preschool-aged child constructs a tower with the largest cube on the bottom and the smallest on top. This material isolates the concept of size. The cubes are all the same color and texture; the only difference is their size. Other materials isolate different concepts: color tablets for color, geometry materials for form, and so on.
Moreover, the materials are self-correcting. When a piece does not fit or is left over, the child easily perceives the error. There is no need for adult "correction." The child is able to solve problems independently, building self-confidence, analytical thinking, and the satisfaction that comes from accomplishment.
As the child's exploration continues, the materials interrelate and build upon each other. For example, various relationships can be explored between the pink tower and the broad stair, which are based on matching precise dimensions. Later, in the elementary years, new aspects of some of the materials unfold. When studying volume, for instance, the child may return to the pink tower and discover that its cubes progress incrementally from one cubic centimeter to one cubic decimeter.