Look behind the doors
By Jincy Dean
Montessori education is most often understood as an early childhood model, and indeed, most Montessori schools are designed for young children and many of Dr. Maria Montessori’s innovations and ideas have influenced the larger field of early childhood education and preschool teaching.
Dr. Maria Montessori brought to education her experiences as a medical doctor (pediatrician and psychiatrist), scientist, peace activist and spiritual visionary. By closely studying children’s biological and psychological development, Montessori concluded humans go through specific growth cycles. Their intellectual and social capacities unfold in a rhythmic order at certain periods. She designed her educational environment to meet the child at each stage of development, to stimulate and nurture latent capacities as they are ready to emerge.
Montessori proposed a “whole child approach” curriculum that invites young children to experience and explore the wholeness and the wonder of the evolving universe. Because the Montessori learning environment cultivates a sense of order and calmness and promotes curiosity and inquiry, it has been widely used successfully in many parts of the world and appeals to many families.
A Montessori classroom is like a studio or laboratory where children can independently engage with the ingenious learning materials that Montessori designed. Montessori trained teachers contribute their own individual teacher-made creations to the classroom environment. These creations are designed for the children to construct their own knowledge through engaged interactions within the classroom environment.
Once the teacher demonstrates (at just the right time in the individual child’s development) how to use the materials, her/his main task is to observe each child as the environment supports self-motivated constructive activity. Dr. Montessori emphasized the importance of concentration ~ allowing children time and space to give focused and sustained attention to their activity. Thus, gaining true understanding that is meaningful and relevant knowledge that is generated within the individual child’s own mind and experience.
Children in these classrooms do meet for group activities but the three year age range and individualized self-paced learning in Montessori education are aspects that differentiate it from other philosophies of early childhood education. Montessori classrooms emphasizes sensory perception (which helps children become attuned to fine differences in sound, color, texture etc.) rather than deliberately promoting imagination; Dr. Montessori believed a primary goal of childhood is to connect purposefully with the physical and cultural environment. Young children are intellectually and emotionally ready to begin expressing their thoughts through writing and discovering the thoughts of others through reading, so sensory based activities enables young children to achieve literacy in concrete form. Montessori educators are convinced that a young child’s urge to communicate this way is powerful and essential.
Are Montessori schools delivering something other schools are not? You are invited to take a look. Montessori schools are spread around the world and therefore, quite diverse with their own unique energy and challenges. Today parents have the benefit of many educational options, and the ability to make informed decisions. Visit a Montessori school location, ask questions and reach your own judgments about the Montessori experience.
Jincy Dean is the Regional Director for Christian Montessori Academy and a nationally recognized expert in early childhood development.