Montessori (pronounced MON-tuh-SORE-ee) education was founded in 1907 by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first woman in Italy to become a physician. She based her educational methods on scientific observation of children's learning processes. Guided by her discovery that children teach themselves, Dr. Montessori designed a "prepared environment" in which children could freely choose from a number of developmentally appropriate activities. Now, nearly a century after Maria Montessori's first casa dei bambini ("children's house") in Rome, Montessori education is found all over the world, spanning ages from birth to adolescence.
Maria Montessori: 1870 - 1952
Maria Montessori was, in many ways, ahead of her time. Born in the town of Chiaravalle, in the province of Ancona, Italy, in 1870, she became the first female physician in Italy upon her graduation from medical school in 1896. Shortly afterwards, she was chosen to represent Italy at two different women's conferences, in Berlin in 1896 and in London in 1900.
In her medical practice, her clinical observations led her to analyze how children learn, and she concluded that they build themselves from what they find in their environment. Shifting her focus from the body to the mind, she returned to the university in 1901, this time to study psychology and philosophy. In 1904, she was made a professor of anthropology at the University of Rome.
Her desire to help children was so strong, however, that in 1906 she gave up both her university chair and her medical practice to work with a group of sixty young children of working parents in the San Lorenzo district of Rome. It was there that she founded the first Casa dei Bambini, or "Children's House." What ultimately became the Montessori Method of education developed there, based upon Montessori's scientific observations of these children's almost effortless ability to absorb knowledge from their surroundings, as well as their tireless interest in manipulating materials. Every piece of equipment, every exercise, every method Montessori developed was based on what she observed children to do "naturally," by themselves, unassisted by adults.
Children teach themselves
This simple but profound truth inspired Montessori's lifelong pursuit of educational reform, methodology, psychology, teaching, and teacher training--all based on her dedication to furthering the self-creating process of the child. Maria Montessori made her first visit to the United States in 1913, the same year that Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel founded the Montessori Educational Association at their Washington, DC, home. Among her other strong American supporters were Thomas Edison and Helen Keller.
In 1915, she attracted world attention with her "glass house" schoolroom exhibit at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco. Dr. Montessori was invited to set up a classroom at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco so that more interested people could observe her methods. A room was built with a glass wall behind which spectators sat and watched the children. Twenty-one children, all completely new to a Montessori environment, attended for four months. The observation seats were filled every day and at noon, when the children served lunch to their classmates and washed up afterwards, there was standing room only in the audience. The two gold medals awarded for education at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition both went to the Montessori class. On this second U.S. visit, she also conducted a teacher training course and addressed the annual conventions of both the National Education Association and the International Kindergarten Union. The committee that brought her to San Francisco included Margaret Wilson, the daughter of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. She believed in working from the concrete to the abstract, and from simple to complex, and at the child’s own pace. The child therefore, internalizes the learning experience, giving it meaning. They do not learn by rote. She believed that the child learnt by doing rather than being told.
Her advice has always been to: "Follow the Child."
The Montessori approach is based upon the natural laws of human development. Maria Montessori observed that children under six absorb limitlessly and effortlessly from the world around them and in so doing lay down all the foundations for later life – they become adults with all the characteristics and language of the culture into which they have been born simply by living. In this huge task, however, they have some help. They have a special kind of mind that she called an absorbent mind - a strong desire to explore everything around them using their senses and a drive to become independent. She identified certain windows of opportunity for the child that she called ‘sensitive periods’ during which the child is irresistibly drawn to the things he needs to help him develop his full human potential.
Montessori education is a balanced program that addresses all aspects of a child’s development: intellectual, social, moral, physical and aesthetic. Montessori education is highly individualized which is why it works so well for such a wide variety of children, from typical learners to gifted learners to children with learning disabilities Education of character is considered equally with academic education, children learning to take care of themselves, their environment, each other - cooking, cleaning, building, gardening, moving gracefully, speaking politely, being considerate and helpful, doing social work in the community. Dr. Maria Montessori gave the world a scientific method, practical and tested, for bringing forth the very best in young human beings. She taught how to respect individual differences, and to emphasize social interaction and the education of the whole personality rather than the teaching of a specific body of knowledge. Montessori practice is always up to date and dynamic because observation and the meeting of needs are continual and specific to each child. When physical, mental, spiritual and emotional needs are met, children glow with excitement and a drive to play and work with enthusiasm to learn and create. They exhibit a desire to teach, help, and care for others and their environment. In Montessori education, each child is a unique individual, not two are the same. Each child learns at her own pace and will be ready for any given lesson in her own time, not on the teacher’s schedule of lessons. Each child has his/her own learning style. Montessori teachers treat each child as an individual, customizing lessons to fit individual needs and expressions.
FREEDOM AND DISCIPLINE
It is interesting that Montessori classrooms are seen to offer too much freedom. In a quality program the perfect balance between freedom and limits is maintained, while helping the children to develop "inner discipline" and "normalization". Children in the prepared environment are free to make many decisions for themselves and are assisted in their independence. The Montessori setting offers "freedom within limits", not license to do anything one pleases. As a child grows in their ability to make decisions for themselves, they earn more freedom. At the same time, a very young child or a child new to the environment would be offered less choice or freedom. One of the beauties of the prepared environment is the ability of children of all ages and stages to work together harmoniously. A true community is developed with the children helping each other.
In the Montessori setting when we talk about discipline we talk about internal discipline and not external discipline. “Discipline is not the imposing of restraints, for any form of discipline that is gained by placing restrictions is not real discipline”. Instead discipline is, as Dr Maria Montessori said, related to qualities of internal construction and of the organizations of the personality.
In order for the child to develop self- discipline, i.e. the ability to restrain himself, he must be given certain freedoms so that he is able to exercise self-discipline.
By giving a child freedom, they have the opportunity to choose, the opportunity to make real decisions, the opportunity to develop a strong will which will lead to physical and mental independence and self – discipline. The environment at Temtots School is specially prepared so that they can exercise and develop a strong will. However, each of these freedoms has limits. Within these freedoms, the child has to exercise self-control or self –discipline so that the freedoms given to them are not taken away. The child who has the freedom to work on any activity that has been presented to him, but at the same time he must exercise self discipline not to misuse the material or else his freedom to work with the activity will be taken away from him. In essence we cannot have freedom without discipline or discipline without freedom. Freedom and discipline are a harmonious combination. Freedom is always threatened by the rise of indiscipline and your freedom is protected with the rise of discipline.
There is a general atmosphere of respect for every living thing in the environment with the unspoken rule not to do harm to anyone or to anything.
Dr. Montessori recognized that concrete learning apparatus makes learning much more rewarding. The Montessori learning apparatus are not the method itself; they are simply tools that are used to stimulate the child into logical thoughts and discovery. Dr. Maria Montessori carefully analyzed the skills and concepts involved in each subject and noted the sequence in which children most easily grasp each element to bring the abstract into a clear and concrete form.
The Montessori materials play an important role in the Montessori environment. They are different from traditional “teaching aids” because their purpose is to give the child the chance to discover and learn for him or herself. The self-correcting materials permit the child to use and learn from them without constantly checking back in with the teacher to see if they 'got it right'. Exploring the materials (learning how to learn) is as important as 'getting the answer right'.
The materials are designed so that children explore academic subjects (like math, geography or writing) with concrete materials before progressing to abstract concepts. It is because the Montessori materials are self-correcting that the children can progress at their own rate. Children are excited, motivated, and interested.
Mixed age / horizontal class groupings?
As society reflects a mixed age the classroom should also reflect this. The Montessori environment of children of mixed age groups creates a true social community where children can truly develop socially. It prepares children for the greater community they will be a part of when they are adults.
Children are divided into multi-age groupings in order to foster peer-teaching and spontaneous group interaction. The directress focuses on helping the children discover and fulfill their maximum potential, acting as a catalyst as they learn academic skills and to use their time effectively and wisely. This blended grouping nurtures the feeling of a community consisting of teachers, students and parents. Students are able to grow not only academically but also emotionally, socially and spiritually. Multi-age settings permit older children the opportunity to aid younger ones. . The younger ones learn from the older ones (sometimes by simply watching and absorbing with their absorbent mind) and the older ones consolidate and strengthen their understanding of a topic when they instruct the younger ones or seek to render an explanation. This strengthens their own knowledge through the experience of teaching and boosts self-esteem. When compared to children in single age classes, children in multiage classes are superior in study habits, social interaction, self-motivation, cooperation, and attitudes toward school. Academic skills develop at a faster rate when there are varied levels of skills in the environment. The latter requires the older child to understand what he knows even better. The older children naturally seek to help the younger ones and the younger ones naturally seek help and assistance from the older children. What develops is the younger child’s admiration for the older child; and the older child’s respect for the younger child coupled with a desire to protect those smaller or younger or weaker than him. The class gets to be a group cemented by affection.
Montessori approach is often described as “an education for life” Research studies show that Montessori children are well prepared for later life academically, socially, and emotionally. In addition to scoring well on standardized tests, Montessori children are ranked above average on such criteria as following directions, turning in work on time, listening attentively, using basic skills, showing responsibility, asking provocative questions, showing enthusiasm for learning, and adapting to new situations.
Supposing I said there was a planet without schools or teachers, where study was unknown, and yet the inhabitants—doing nothing but living and walking about—came to know all things, to carry in their minds the whole of learning; would you not think I was romancing? Well, just this, which seems so fanciful as to be nothing but the invention of a fertile imagination, is a reality. It is the child's way of learning. This is the path he follows. He learns everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so he passes little by little from the unconscious to the conscious, treading always in the paths of joy and love.
—Dr. Maria Montessori, MD
Every child is unique and therefore, education should not be based on what is taught (subject matter), but on who is taught (the child).
"The child has his own laws of growth, and if we want to help him grow, we must follow him instead of imposing ourselves on him" (page 59, Education for a New World).
To aid life, leaving it free, however to unfold itself, that is the basic task of the educator
Mrs Foluso Faseyitan is the Director of learning and also the school’s founder. She’s a second-career teacher whose first degree is in Accounting. A thoroughly trained and well groomed montessorian. Mrs Faseyitan is a strong advocate of the Montessori philosophy. She also holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Education and has attended several international trainings, conferences and seminars in her passionate pursuit of excellence
She has an intense passion to see children grow in excellence. In her words “Every child is a gift to the world, we need to consciously unwrap the gift and see the treasures that lies within these adorable beings God has blessed us with”. This has been the secret behind the transformation that has been constantly seen to take place in the life of every child that comes into Temtots.