Maria Montessori’s Method
Maria Montessori was born in 1870 and was the first woman to be granted a medical degree by an Italian university. Influenced by the work of Seguin and Itard in France, Montessori designed materials and techniques that allowed children to work in areas previously considered beyond their capacity. Through her observations, Montessori realized that the learning experience occurs naturally and joyfully at the proper moment for each individual child; She wrote, “It is true, we cannot make a genius”, “We can only give each individual the chance to fulfill his potential possibilities to become an independent, secure, and balanced human being.”Montessori’s life work began with a group of disadvantaged children in 1907 when she opened her famous Casa de Bambini. She developed an approach that acknowledged the first six years of life to be the most important in human development. Dr. Montessori discovered that during these early years children have an amazing capacity to absorb knowledge from their surroundings. She frequently compared the young mind to a sponge and called this phenomenon “The Absorbent Mind”. Children teach themselves! This is the underlying theme that Montessori stresses throughout her philosophy of early childhood education.Montessori saw in the child a natural desire to work and learn. She emphasized that the hand is the chief teacher of the child. In order to learn, there must be concentration, and the best way a child can concentrate is by fixing his attention on some task he is performing with his hands. All the unique Montessori materials in a classroom allow the child to reinforce his casual impressions by inviting him to use his hands for learning. Another observation of Dr. Montessori was the importance of the “Sensitive Periods” for early learning. These are periods of intense fascination for learning a particular characteristic or skill. It is easier for the child to learn a particular skill during the corresponding sensitive period than at any other time in a child’s life. Montessori-based classrooms take advantage of this fact by allowing the child freedom to select individual activities which correspond to his or her own period of interest.
Dr. Montessori’s whole approach to education was in the spirit of constant experimentation based on the observation of the child. One of Montessori’s primary goals was to promote the development of social skills, emotional growth, and cognitive preparation so every child could fulfill their utmost potential. She believed that the potential of the child is not just mental, but is revealed only when the complete “Montessori method” is understood and followed. The child’s choice, practical work, care of others and the environment, and above all the high levels of concentration reached when work is respected and not interrupted, reveal a human being that is superior not only academically, but emotionally and spiritually, a child who cares deeply about other people and the world, and who works to discover a unique and individual way to contribute. This is the essence of real “Montessori” work today.
Dedicated to the Montessori method, Irvine Montessori School implements these unique Montessori characteristics as part of our everyday curriculum.
- Three-Year Cycle — A mixed age-grouping revolves around a three-year cycle, providing children an opportunity to learn from each other, to act as role models for learning, and to respond to their natural drive to work. This stimulating, cooperative atmosphere allows the children to develop at their individual rate over the three-year period, and to take each subject of study to a deeper level of understanding with each year.
- Sensitive Periods — Applying her expertise in neuroscience, Dr. Montessori was the first to design an educational system that recognizes that there are certain times that are optimal for a child to develop a particular skill. The purpose of the Montessori method is to match the appropriate instruction to the individual child’s sensitive period for skill mastery.
- Prepared Environment — Designed with the child in mind, the learning environment is beautiful, child-sized, and thoughtfully arranged. This includes a full array of developmentally appropriate activities and uniquely designed materials that intrigue children at each evolving sensitive period. The outdoor environment stimulates interaction with the natural world while planting the seeds for scientific inquiry.
- Materials — Montessori-designed educational materials and teacher-developed activities encourage sensory exploration of the world. They help children develop concentration, observation, and assessment skills. The use of self-correcting materials promotes independent learning, while the sequential order (advancing in degree of difficulty and abstraction) encourages children to reach higher levels of learning.
- Independence — All materials and activities are designed to inspire age-appropriate independence, creating a small society of capable, independent learners working together. During sensitive periods of development, the teacher provides direct instruction. After that, the child begins to work with the materials independently.
- Teachers as Observers — Through observation and attention to sensitive periods of development, teachers guide each child through the curriculum by introducing concepts and materials in individual and small-group lessons. Children are then encouraged to practice and refine skills through repetition. Introduction of new challenges occurs when the child is ready to progress to the next phase of learning. As children grow at their own pace, consecutive lessons are presented and additional materials are used to explore ideas more intensely.
- Big Picture Focus — The Montessori curriculum is described as “cosmic,” meaning that it is a comprehensive, integrated design that successively builds on prior educational exposure, creating breadth and depth of knowledge.