How is a Montessori program different from other school options?
In most traditional schools, the children are taught educational concepts in a group by a teacher. In a Montessori program, the children work at their own pace, independently learning concepts from multi-sensory materials designed for self-correction and physical exploration.
Most educators and psychologists agree that the single most important period in the development of a person’s intelligence occurs between birth and age five. A child’s mind is absorbent, and his curiosity is at a peak during these early years. When properly nourished and stimulated, the child’s mind forms patterns of learning which serve him throughout his life. A Montessori school provides one of the most effective environments in which to guide a child through these critical years.
The Montessori Method of education is basically a unique approach to learning. Rather than “teaching” the child concepts, the environment is designed in such a way to expose her to materials and experiences through which she develops intellectual, as well as physical and psychological abilities. The prepared environment takes full advantage of the self-motivation and unique ability of the young child to develop her own capabilities–all with little or no adult intervention.
A Montessori classroom is a specially designed and equipped environment where the child can unfold spontaneously and manifest the greater person within. As Dr. Montessori said, “The child is the father of the man.” (The Secret of Childhood, Maria Montessori, p. 36, 194). The purpose of the method is the development of the child’s inner self, and from this, love of life and learning expand continuously.
Dr. Maria Montessori in the early twentieth century, was Italy’s first woman physician, and this background led her to approaching education not as a philosopher or educator, but as a scientist. Through careful observation of children, she developed unique materials in a child-centered environment and revolutionized educational thought by stressing respect for the child, freedom of expression, self-education, and learning through the use of the senses and movement.
The Montessori classroom is a child-sized world. Whatever is in the world outside can be incorporated meaningfully into the Montessori classroom. To the young child, the world is unmanageable–it is too big, too complex, and too confusing. By careful selection of materials by the teacher, an environment is set up which allows the child a place to explore life on a level she can understand. The materials and exercises are designed to stimulate independent exploration. This prepared environment entices the child to proceed at her own pace, from simple to more complex activities. Through this process, her natural curiosity is satisfied, and she begins to experience the joy of discovering the world around her. Materials and curricula center around practical life, sensorial, mathematics, language, geography, history, science, art, music, drama, and perceptual motor development.
As the children develop their sense of pride in their “work,”a feeling of confidence, well-being, and joy begins to manifest itself in the child. A “new child” is born. A classroom of Montessori children is a joy to watch. There seems to be a spirit of respect, love and cooperation among the children. A feeling of community pervades the classroom.
The child has a deep love and need for purposeful work. He works, however, not as an adult for profit or completion of a job, but for the sake of the activity itself. It is this activity which accomplishes for him his most important goal: the development of himself–his mental, physical and psychological powers. His play is his work, and his work is his play.
In a Montessori classroom there is no front of the room and no teacher’s desk as a focal point of attention because the stimulation for learning comes from the total environment. Dr. Montessori always referred to the teacher as a “directress, or director,” and her role differs considerably from that of a traditional teacher. She is, first of all, a very keen observer of the individual interests and needs of each child, and her daily work proceeds from her observations rather than from a prepared curriculum. The Directress works with each child individually, allowing her to choose from many activities within her range of ability. The teacher stands back while a child is working, and allows her the satisfaction of her own discovery.
The concept of freedom in the classroom is a freedom within limits. A child is free to move about the classroom at will, to talk with other children, to work with any equipment whose purpose he understands, and to ask the teacher for presentations of new material, so long as he does not disturb others. Actually, children who have the freedom to follow their interests, are generally happily and busily involved in their work.
Nature has given children special forms of mental powers which aid in their self-construction. The first of these powers is the “absorbent mind,” the ability to absorb all aspects of one’s culture and civilization without effort or fatigue. This mental approach is indiscriminate, incorporating both good and bad, and begins at birth. Children also experience sensitive periods in their development. During these periods, they seek certain stimuli with immense intensity, to the exclusion of others. These are transitory periods in which they develop specific mental functions, such as movement, language, order, refinement of the senses and social awareness. They occur universally at approximately the same age in all children. If a child’s need for specific stimuli is not met during the sensitive period, he loses the opportunity for optimal development. What he can learn almost effortlessly at this critical time will take effort on his part later. Dr. Montessori devised special materials to aid children in each sensitive period. Between the ages of 2 and 3, a special sense of order, concentration, coordination, and independence emerge. This time is ideal to begin a child’s training in Montessori, as she is at the perfect period to build a strong foundation for future learning.
Children who have been in a Montessori environment are generally very flexible and adjust quite easily to a public school situation. They are generally better students and spend their time in more productive ways because of their self-discipline, independence and positive attitude toward learning.
Socialization is very much a part of a Montessori classroom. In the classroom you will notice children interacting continuously: younger children inspired to do more advanced work by observing and learning from older ones, and older children learning through teaching and helping younger ones. Daily the classroom community comes together to sing and read stories, and lessons in grace and courtesy, an important component to building the classroom community, are often given in small or large groups. A Montessori classroom has often been described as a “natural social setting,” with children free to interact with one another.
The Montessori method is an approach to learning, and as such, has no distinction of class or intelligence. It has been used successfully with children between the ages of 2 1/2 and 18, in all parts of the world, from all socioeconomic levels representing the average, gifted, and special needs child. It is not associated with any particular religious persuasion.
Tuition in Montessori programs throughout the country tends to be higher than in other programs because of the extensive materials, encompassing environment, balanced curriculum and highly trained staff. It is, however, a very reasonable cost in contrast to other activities you would plan for yourself or your child. To give your child the finest possible experience in his most sensitive years is to give him a strong foundation throughout his life, and probably ward off investment, later, to correct or remedy that which was missed. Many educators believe it is a wise decision to invest in a child’s preschool education because the child who enjoys learning and becomes self-directed at the critical preschool age, will benefit through all his years of learning.
Please note: The Tree House strives to have an inclusive, richly diverse student population with children from all socio-economic strata so the tuition rates are much lower than what other Montessori schools of comparable quality charge. A Google search of schools across the country is an easy way to verify this. Parents may go to AMI-USA: www.montessori-ami.org for this information.
Montessori is not a closed or static system of education. While there are certain materials and methods that have been proven effective through many years of use, Montessori is as much an attitude about education and children, as it is a specific method.
By being a parent of The Tree House, you are automatically a member of our parent organization, “The Mighty Oaks” where each parent is asked to participate and support school efforts through fundraising, class holiday parties, observations, conferences, parent evenings, and other special events. The more parents participate, the better able they are to follow through at home. When parents follow through at home, the child benefits even more because she has a consistent environment in which to grow and develop as a secure, well-adjusted human being.
There are many excellent books to choose from, however, we recommend beginning with these:
- The Secret of Childhood by Dr. Maria Montessori
- Montessori–A Modern Approach by Paula Polk Lillard
- Montessori, Her Life and Work by E. M. Standing
- Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Lillard, PhD
- Montessori Madness by Trevor Eissler
What are some other books not written by Montessorians that support this philosophy?
Anything written by Alfie Kohn….
- The Schools Our Children Deserve
- Punished by Rewards
- No Contest
- The Case Against Standardized Testing
by Robert Shank …
- Coloring Outside the Lines
Books about brain development….
- Endangered Minds by Jane Healy, PhD
- Failure to Connect by Jane Healy, PhD
Books on creativity…
- Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Books on parenting…
- Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson, Ed D
- The Cornucopia Kids by Bruce Baldwin
- Parenting with Love and Logic by Jim Fay