What is Montessori?

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What is Montessori? Can someone explain in plain terms please…?

This video represents a good summary about the Montessori Method and its many benefits, as experienced by parents.

Despite its familiar name and the large number of schools utilizing its concepts worldwide (in one way or another, for good or for…not so good…), the term “Montessori” is still one that isn’t fully understood by the average parent. To a great extent, we, the Montessori community haven’t done a great job of disseminating and clearly communicating who we are and what are our core principles. Adding to the confusion, the Montessori community has forked into two somewhat varied applications of the Montessori principles: AMI-Association Montessori Internationale (original Montessori Method of Education, pioneered by Dr. Maria Montessori; highest level of accreditation worldwide), and AMS-American Montessori Society. Finally, the untrained and poor application of some Montessori concepts by non-accredited schools have only added to the wide range of misconceptions about the method.

Therefore, it is very important to first clarify some misconceptions. The Montessori Method of Education is NOT: A religious philosophy, an inflexible or highly rigid structure, an extremelly lose or “free for all” platform, an “academic-only” or “lack-of-fun” environment, or void of enrichment activities in a classroom. Among others.

All to the contrary, the Montessori Method of Education very much IS: A methodology of comprehensive development (social, emotional and academic) for children (primarily, but also adolescents), that tailors learning to the individual abilities and learning pace of each child. Its primary objective is to sprout the child’s inherent need for independence, self-confidence and creativity, all in an atmosphere of exploration and respect for the environment around us. To achieve this, Montessori utilizes specialized classroom materials that allow for such exploration, as well as multi-aged classrooms (18 months-3 years, 3 years-6 years, 6+ years, etc), which forge valuable cross-learning.

In a Montessori classroom the child has “freedom-with-limits” – the ability to choose a particular lesson of interest however, only after an accredited teacher has adequately introduced the lesson for the child’s current level of understanding. Beyond such introduction and within the assigned limits, the child manipulates the materials and over time gains a true understanding of the underlying concepts behind a lesson, rather than relying on traditional methods of memorization.

Everything else in an accredited Montessori school is absolutely normal and consistent with the standard needs and wants of young children. They enjoy long breaks, play-time story times, group activities, child events and plain old fun; very importantly however, they also learn the fun and joy of learning. The beauty of Montessori and its specialized child-tailored materials is that from the child’s perspective all lessons are like a puzzle, a game or an implementation of daily practical skills.  Yet, at a deeper level and without immediately being aware of it, crucial life skills and academic concepts are only solidifying themselves. Further, Montessori children learn all subjects in a Montessori class: Mathematics, writing and reading comprehension, geography, science, music, art, gardening, practical life skills, among many others.  

The Montessori program for children of Primary ages (3-6 years) is a three-year program that builds further every year. Therefore, completion of the full three years is important to obtaining the full benefit of the program.

Dr. Maria Montessori

Nominated three times for the Noble Peace Prize in 1949, 1950, and 1951, Dr. Maria Montessori was an education pioneer who established the Montessori Method. Born in Italy, she became the first woman doctor in that country. Shortly after, her desire to help children was so strong that she gave up her medical practice in order to work with children of working parents. There, she established what is now known as the Montessori Method (of education) and the first “Children’s House” (Casa de Bambini).

Dr. Maria Montessori, through her observations, realized that children learn to absorb their environment effortlessly. It was through these observations that specialized materials and equipment were designed, so that children could do work without requiring much assistance from the adult. Throughout the years, many who studied under her made their own significant contributions to education and child psychology, including Anna Freud, Jean Piaget, Alfred Adler, and Erik Erikson.

She is credited with the development of the “open classroom”, individualized education, hands-on learning materials, teaching toys, child-size tables and chairs and systematic instruction. In the last 35 years, educators in Europe and North America have begun to recognize the consistency of the Montessori approach, based on extensive research about child development.

Throughout her career as an educator, Dr. Maria Montessori visited many countries, including her first visit to the United States in 1913. It was at this time that the Montessori Educational Association was founded in Washington, D.C. by Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel. She had staunch supporters such as Thomas Edison and Helen Keller. In the years following, she traveled throughout Europe and Asia giving lectures and establishing Teacher Training Institutions. Dr. Montessori died in Noordwijk, Holland in 1952; yet her work lives on through the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), and through the dedicated schools and Montessori organizations.

For additional information about Dr. Maria Montessori, her life work, the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and the Montessori Method of Education, please visit this link.

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