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Montessori’s Approach to Learning and Education

Hands of a student using Montessori material

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori, born in Italy in 1870, was an amazing woman ahead of her time. With specialties in Pediatrics and Psychiatry, Maria Montessori was the first female physician in Italy who became one of the most innovative educators of all time. Her entrance into the world of education came after her graduation from medical school when her interactions with children she was treating in a free clinic spurred her to learn more about learning and education. She then proceeded to observe and work with children in an asylum who were considered “unteachable.” Through her scientific research and observations with these children, Montessori fashioned a method of education in which her students flourished with many passing exams on-level with their peers. Then in 1907 in the slums of Rome and sanctioned by the Italian government, she opened her first school, the Children’s House, serving 60 at-risk children. She continued to learn from the children by trial and error and refined her approach. Montessori wrote about her insights and presented her findings and methods across the globe. She literally trained thousands of teachers during her lifetime and was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Her methods are tried and true with over 100 years of success in diverse cultures. Currently, there are over 5,000 Montessori schools in the U.S. and approximately 20,000 worldwide.

Montessori’s approach to learning and education include:

  • Viewing the child as a “whole individual” and not an empty vessel to be filled. Supporting the child’s innate desire to learn (directed by the child’s interests and motivations and child-led) with freedom, guidance, and the opportunity to discover the world around them.
  • Research-based with materials, environment, and presentations based on how the brain/body works and connects and how children learn optimally.
  • Awareness that young children learn by imitation.
  • A peaceful and prepared environment (intentional, aesthetically pleasing set-up/layout of the classroom with proper and inviting, beautiful specially designed materials).
  • A peaceful and properly prepared guide (teacher).
  • Specially designed, hands-on materials and the environment are the curricula.
  • Self-directed learning activities.
  • Emphasis on all things real (i.e. materials made from wood, real life experiences, real tools, etc.).
  • Education to peace (individual, community) including Grace & Courtesy presentations and works, conflict resolution, Peace Corner to promote self-calming, community service with older students, etc.
  • Educating the whole child (cognitive, emotional, physical, social).
  • Multi-age, multi-level classrooms.
  • Close observation of children by teachers/assistants and individualized learning and pace with regard to “sensitive periods’ or windows of opportunity.
  • Learning is relational (guides/teachers give one-on-one or small group presentations of new materials/concepts; collaboration among students is encouraged; Grace & Courtesy lessons are integral components throughout all levels).
  • Presentations (lessons) and materials are age and developmentally appropriate beginning with sensorial for the youngest child and progressing from concrete to more abstract with the older children. Practical Life and life skills are included at all levels.
  • Presentations (lessons) are broken down and given in steps and in a specific, repeatable sequence.
  • Repetition and mastery are encouraged.
  • Materials and presentations allow for many cognitive and developmental levels.
  • Uninterrupted work periods for children. Children allowed to work individually.
  • Outdoor time and learning essential skills (recess, gardening, outdoor learning spaces/materials).
  • Freedom of movement in the classroom (as well as the choice to work at a table or on the floor).
  • Independence encouraged and foundational.

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