MONTESSORI -- PRE-SCHOOL AND KINDERGARTEN
The Montessori method is an educational method for children, based on theories of child development originated by Italian educator Maria Montessori in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The method is characterized by an emphasis on self-directed activity on the part of the child and clinical observation on the part of the teacher. It stresses the importance of adapting the child's learning environment to his or her developmental level, and of the role of physical activity in absorbing academic concepts and practical skills. It is also characterized by the use of autodidactic (self-correcting) equipment to introduce various concepts.
Dr. Maria Montessori developed what came to be called the Montessori Method as an outgrowth of her post-graduate research into the intellectual development of mentally retarded children. Building on the work of French physicians Jean Itard and Edouard Seguin, she tried to make an environment for the scientific study of children with physical and mental disabilities. After successes in treating these children, she began to study the application of her techniques to the education of children of normal intelligence.
By 1906, Montessori was well enough known that she was asked to head a day-care center in Rome's run-down San Lorenzo district. She used the opportunity to observe the children's interactions with materials she developed, refining them as well as developing new materials with which the children could work. This materials-centered approach, in which the teacher mainly observes while the children select materials designed to impart specific concepts or skills, is a hallmark of Montessori education.
Montessori's initial work was focused on children of preschool age. After observing developmental changes in children just beginning elementary school, she and her son Mario began a new course of research into adapting her approach to elementary-school children.
Near the end of her life, in her book From Childhood to Adolescence, Montessori described how her teaching methodology might be applied to the secondary-school and university levels.
"From the moment the child enters the classroom, each step in his education is seen as a progressive building block, ultimately forming the whole person, in the emergence from childhood to adult. All focus is on the needs of the child."
One distinguishing feature of Montessori at the preschool age is that children direct their own learning, choosing among the sections of a well structured and stocked classroom, including Practical Life (fine and gross motor skills), Sensorial (senses and brain), Language, Mathematics, Geography, Science, and Art. The role of a teacher is to introduce children to materials and then remain a "silent presence" in the classroom.
The Montessori philosophy is built upon the idea that children develop and think differently from adults; that they are not merely "adults in small bodies". Dr. Montessori advocated children's rights, children working to develop themselves into adults, and that these developments would lead to world peace. The Montessori method discourages traditional measurements of achievement (grades, tests) under the premise that it is damaging to the inner growth of children (and adults). Feedback and qualitative analysis of a child's performance does exist but is usually provided in the form of a list of skills, activities and critical points, and sometimes a narrative of the child's achievements, strengths and weaknesses, with emphasis on the improvement of those weaknesses.
The premises of a Montessori approach to teaching and learning include the following:
That children are capable of self-directed learning.
That it is critically important for the teacher to be an "observer" of the child instead of a lecturer. This observation of the child interacting with his or her environment is the basis for the ongoing presentation of new material and avenues of learning. Presentation of subsequent exercises for skill development and information accumulation are based on the teacher's observation that the child has mastered the current exercise(s).
That there are numerous "sensitive periods" of development (periods of a few months or even weeks), during which a child's mind is particularly open to learning specific skills or knowledge such as crawling, sitting, walking, talking, reading, counting, and various levels of social interaction. These skills are learned effortlessly and joyfully. Learning one of these skills outside of its corresponding sensitive period is certainly possible, but always difficult and frustrating.
That children have an "absorbent mind" from birth to around age 6, possessing limitless motivation to achieve competence within their environment and to perfect skills and understandings. This phenomenon is characterized by the young child's capacity for repetition of activities within sensitive period categories, such as exhaustive babbling as language practice leading to language competence.
That children are masters of their school room environment, which has been specifically prepared for them to be academic, comfortable, and to encourage independence by giving them the tools and responsibility to manage its upkeep.
That children learn through discovery, so didactic materials with a control for error are used. Through the use of these materials (specifically designed toys, blocks, sets of letters, science experiments, etc.) children learn to instinctually correct their own mistakes instead of relying on a teacher to give them the correct answer.
That children most often learn alone during periods of intense concentration. During these self-chosen and spontaneous periods, the child is not to be interrupted by the teacher.
That the hand is intimately connected to the developing brain in children. Children must actually touch the shapes, letters, temperatures, etc. that they are learning about--not just watch a teacher or TV screen tell them about these discoveries.
Montessori is a highly hands-on approach to learning. It encourages children to develop their observation skills by doing many types of activities. These activities include use of the five senses, kinetic movement, spatial refinement, small and large motor skill coordination, and concrete knowledge that leads to later abstraction.
Montessori classrooms provide an atmosphere that is pleasant and attractive to allow children to learn at their own pace and interact with others in a natural and peaceful environment. In the ideal classroom, children would have unfettered access to the outdoors, but this is frequently not possible given modern day space considerations (and cost thereof).
In response, Montessori teachers stock their classrooms with nature shelves, living plants and small pets, or perhaps a window sill garden, allowing children to experience as much of the natural world as possible given modern constraints.
In the elementary, middle, and upper school years, Montessori schools ideally adhere to the three-year age range of pupils to encourage an interactive social and learning environment. This system allows flexibility in learning pace and allowing older children to become teachers by sharing what they have learned.
Areas of the Classroom
In the Montessori Curriculum, there are 6 overall areas:
This area is designed to help students develop a care for themselves, the environment, and each other. In the Primary years (3-6), children learn how to do things from pouring and scooping, using various kitchen utensils, washing dishes, shining objects, scrubbing tables, and cleaning up. They also learn how to dress themselves, tie their shoes, wash their hands, and other various self-care needs. They learn these through a wide variety of materials and activities. While caring for yourself and your environment is an important part of Montessori Practical Life education in these years, it also prepares the child for so much more. The activities build a child's concentration as well as being designed in many cases to prepare the child for writing. For the first three years of life, children absorb a sense of order in their environment. They learn how to act a certain way naturally by absorbing it. These ages, from 3-6, the children are learning how to both build their own order and discover, understand, and refine the order they already know. So it's typical for you to see a child spend a half hour working on one practical life activity with a strong concentration and attention to detail. Language preparation comes in many forms in the practical life area. In non-Asian countries, the setup is from left to right, top to bottom, as much as possible to prepare the child for reading and writing. (Many countries, such as those that read and write Chinese, may adapt this to fit the way they write and read). Many of the fine motor skills being used involve a pencil grip and help the child develop that grip to be able to later use a pencil more easily.
Practical life in the elementary years and high school years involves many of the same skills, but also begins to take a bigger drive towards community service oriented activities.
All learning first comes to us through the senses. By isolating something that is being taught, the child can more easily focus on it. For example, colors are not taught by having the child think of everything that is blue - blue jeans, the sky, icebergs, a picture of a blue cartoon elephant hanging on a wall. Colors are taught with the color tablets. The color tablets are all exactly the same except for one thing - their color in the middle. This helps take away the confusion for the child and helps them to focus on specifically what blue is.
Exact phrasing of terms is important. An oval is not an "egg shape." A sphere is not a "ball." The Montessori method places great emphasis on using the correct terminology for what we see. This is readily apparent in the sensorial area.
The sensorial area also falls over into the math area quite regularly. The red rods in the sensorial area are a direct link to the segmented rods in math that teach 1-10. The pink tower has a connection to units and thousands that the child learns later in the 3-6 curriculum. Even the trinomial cube will be used in the elementary years to figure out complex mathematical formulas.
This includes both the studies of the world and various cultures. Montessori children come out of a 3-6 environment not only understanding the concept of a continent, country, and state, but also the names of many countries around the world. Montessori uses colored maps to help the children remember continents, countries, and states.
More importantly, the goal is to get an understanding that there are various cultures and these cultures have a lot to offer us. When a student is doing the map of Asia, pictures, stories, facts about different Asian countries, and a variety of learning opportunities open up to give the child a real sense of the world and how it is different - even within the same area.
For the elementary years, a very in-depth cultural curriculum is implemented. Children begin to learn about the capital states and begin learning about governments. A focus on appreciating and enjoying other cultures is also a core part of the curriculum. A child may even take his interest in geography and expand it to a wide range of learning opportunities in other areas. For example, a child may decide to study the history of his city which might begin with early settlers. People may have settled in that area because it was near a river. This information may lead the child to include, in his study, the different natural life around the river and how that may have helped the early settlers. The growth rate of the area in different time periods may also be included and presented in the form of a graph. In one cultural lesson, the child therefore may include math, science, history, and geography in one study. This is just an example, but the possibilities of what a child takes interest in are endless. The teacher is there as a guide to help draw in different aspects for the child to look into and research, rather than having to be the source of all the information.
Children at the early childhood age are very detail-oriented. They know what a bird is. Now they want to know the various body parts of a bird. They want to know the life cycle of different animals. They begin to really look at the parts of a plant and wonder, "What are those long things coming out of the middle of a flower?" The science curriculum takes the opportunity for the child's natural questioning and draws a curriculum for the 3-6 age range.
The language curriculum in 3-6 involves everything from vocabulary development to writing to reading. Children learn their basic letter sounds through the use of sandpaper letters, where the letters are cut from sandpaper and glued to a wooden board. As the child traces the letter, they get a real image for how the letter feels. They can also feel if a mistake was made because of the different feel of the sandpaper from the board. They begin making words before they can read words with the moveable alphabet, a large box of cut out letters made from wood or plastic that the child can arrange on his or her rug.
A focus on grammar, story writing, and reports are in the elementary years. Grammar is taught with very hands-on materials. In a 6-9 classroom, the child learns about nouns, verbs, adjectives, articles, prepositions, adverbs, conjunctions, pronouns, and interjections. In the 9-12 classroom, a focus is also placed on learning gerunds, abstract nouns, and other more advanced grammar concepts.
An appreciation for literature is another strong point in the Montessori elementary curriculum.
Children go from a very concrete understanding of math to a more abstract concept. For example, the difference between 1, 10, 100, and 1000 because they have felt it countless times. They felt it originally in the pink tower when they were 3 years old and later in the math materials. The idea of squares and cubes becomes concrete because of the use of the Montessori Bead Cabinet.
As stated above, the sensorial leads into the math area very well. A child who attended a 3-6 Montessori classroom will have likely worked with a material called the trinomial cube. After working with it in 3-6 for several years, then in a 6-9 classroom extensively, the student may be ready to take on another phase of the material. Rather than working with it as a sensorial material, by matching up colors and shapes, a 9 year old might be ready to use it to understand that: (a+b+c)=a³+3a²b+3a²c+b³+3ab²+3b²c+c³+3ac²+3bc²+6abc
The child can then work out the math equation to figure out the cube of a+b+c with different variables. This is just one example of how sensorial materials cross over into math.
Every activity has its place in the classroom and is self-contained and self-correcting. The original didactic materials are specific in design, conforming to exact dimensions, and each activity is designed to focus on a single skill, concept, or exercise. All of the material is based on SI units of measurement (for instance, the Pink Tower is based on the 1 cm cube) which allows all the materials to work together and complement each other, as well as introduce the SI units through concrete example. In addition to this, material is intended for multiple uses at the primary level. For example, manipulative materials initially used to allow the child to analyze sense impressions are also designed to improve fine motor coordination needed for writing.
Other materials are often constructed by the teacher: felt storyboard characters, letter boxes (small containers of objects that all start with the same sound) for the language area, science materials (e.g. dinosaur models for tracing, etc.), scent or taste activities, and so on. The practical life area materials are almost always put together by the teacher. All activities must be neat, clean, attractive and preferably made of natural materials such as glass or wood, rather than plastic. Sponges, brooms, and dustpans are provided and mishaps, including broken glassware, are not punished but rather treated as an opportunity for the children to demonstrate responsibility by cleaning up after themselves.
At higher grade levels, the teacher becomes more involved in creating materials since not only the students' capacities but also the potential subjects widen considerably. Many of the earlier materials, moreover, can be revisited with a new explanation, emphasis, or use; for example, the cube that a five-year-old used as an exercise in color matching is revealed to the elementary level student to physically embody the mathematical relationship (a+b)³=a³ + 3a²b + 3ab² +b³.
A child does not engage in an activity until the teacher or another student has directly demonstrated its proper use, and then the child may use it as desired (limited only by individual imagination or the material's potentially dangerous qualities). Each activity leads directly to a new level of learning or to a concept. When a child actively learns, that child acquires the basis for later concepts. Additionally, repetition of activities is considered an integral part of this learning process, and children are allowed to repeat activities as often as they wish. If a child expresses boredom on account of this repetition, then the child is considered to be ready for the next level of learning.
Children are introduced to equipment that is designed especially for the lesson at hand. For example, children are introduced to sandpaper letters as the first step to reading. Sandpaper letters are simple lower case letters cut out of fine-grained sandpaper and mounted on wooden cards. Simple sounds that flow together are introduced first. In addition, children are taught the sounds of the letters, not the names. For example, the teacher would show the child the "K" sandpaper letter and say /k/ /k/. An emphasis is placed on the correct way to say the sound, so there is no "uh" added to the end of the sound. (Such as "Kuh" for the letter "k"). The child is encouraged to trace the letter as he or she says the sound aloud. Once the first letter is mastered, the child will be introduced to another.
When children have learned seven or eight letter sounds, they are introduced to the movable alphabet. The movable alphabet is a set of letter cutouts. The vowels and consonants are different colors. Using these letters, the child will learn how to blend CVC (consonant vowel consonant) sounds to form words such as "mat" and "cat."
Home schoolers may find both the philosophy and the materials useful since each child is treated as an individual and the activities are self-contained, self-correcting, and expandable. Aspects of the Montessori Method can easily scale down to a homeschooling environment — save for Montessori's focus on maintaining a group of children within a three-year age range.
For many presentations, a 3 step process is used in the lesson. This is called the "3 period lesson."
2 or 3 materials are selected from what the children are working with.
Period 1 consists of providing the child with the name of the material. In the case of letter sounds, the teacher will have the child trace the letter and say, "This is /k/. This is /m/." This provides the children with the name of what they are learning.
Period 2 is to help the child recognize the different objects. Most of the time with the three period lesson is in period 2. Some things the teacher might say are, "Point to /k/. Point to /m/." or "Give me /m/. Give me /k/." After spending some time in the 2nd period, the child may move on to period 3.
Period 3 involves checking to see if the child not only recognizes the name of the material, but is able to tell you what it is. The teacher will point to the "m" sandpaper letter and ask the student, "What is this?" If the child replies with, "mmmmm," we know the child fully understands it.
Maria Montessori was very clear to point out that if the child does not go through the 3rd period, it is OK and the teacher must simply put the material away to try some other time. There is no pressure from the teacher to learn these things, just trust that the child will learn them eventually and they are not necessarily ready for that.
Angeline Stoll Lillard's award-winning 2005 book Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius (Oxford University Press) presents the first really comprehensive overview evaluating Montessori versus conventional education in terms of research relevant to their underlying principles. Lillard cites research indicating that Montessori's basic methods are more suited to what psychology research reveals about human development, and argues the need for more research.
A 2006 study published in the journal "Science" concluded that Montessori students (at ages 5 and 12) performed better than control students who had lost the random computerized lottery to go to Montessori in prior years and instead went to a variety of different conventional schools. This better performance was obtained in a variety of areas, including not only traditional academic areas such as language and math, but in social skills as well (though by age 12 academic benefits had largely disappeared).:
On several dimensions, children at a public inner city Montessori school had superior outcomes relative to a sample of Montessori applicants who, because of a random lottery, attended other schools. By the end of kindergarten, the Montessori children performed better on standardized tests of reading and math, engaged in positive interaction on the playground more, and showed advanced social cognition and executive control more. They also showed more concern for fairness and justice. At the end of elementary school, Montessori children wrote more creative essays with more complex sentence structures, selected more positive responses to social dilemmas, and reported feeling more of a sense of community at their school.
The authors concluded that, "when strictly implemented, Montessori education fosters social and academic skills that are equal or superior to those fostered by a pool of other types of schools." Research by K. Dohrmann and colleagues supplements this by showing superior math and science performance in high school by children who previously attended public Montessori (as compared to high school classmates, over half of whom were at the most selective city public high schools); and two studies by Rathunde and Csikszentmihalyi showing a higher level of interest and motivation while doing school work as well as more positive social relations among Montessori middle-schoolers as opposed to matched controls.