Montessori is a scientifically designed system of education based on the natural stages of human development. It was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, Italy’s first woman physician; Dr. Montessori, whose background in biology, psychiatry, and anthropology was key in her understanding of the young child, opened her first Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) in 1907, in the city of Rome. Her first students were children aged three to six years, and she observed them with the eyes of a scientist as she worked to refine and perfect this method.
Some of the key components of this educational system include:
A Child-Centered Approach: The child is given lessons individually and has freedom to choose from a structured, classified set of materials from which to work. These materials have been developed to meet the child’s physical, emotional, and academic developmental needs. When given the freedom to choose from these carefully organized materials, children choose those activities that best assist them in their current development.
Mixed-Age, Developmental Groupings: Montessori classroom environments are designed for children who share a similar set of developmental needs or “sensitivities” and whose ages span at least three years. This allows younger children to learn from watching older ones and the older children reinforce and “test” their knowledge as they demonstrate to their younger friends.
Multiple Strategies of Instruction: True Montessori programs are characterized by individualized instruction, including small group, cooperative groups, and peer tutoring/mentoring activities. Critical thinking is a part of every lesson. The teacher is accountable for adopting strategies of instruction to fit each learner’s individual needs.
Individually Paced: Each child works at his or her own pace, according to his or her own developmental process and needs. Children engage actively in their own development and in the acquisition of the executive functions that make them successful both in life and in school.
Multiple Measures of Assessment: The materials of instruction themselves provide daily, diagnostic information to the teacher. The teacher observes the student’s performance and assesses it based upon performance criteria associated with that particular material and activity.
A Prepared Learning Environment: The Montessori learning environment is generously equipped with scientifically designed, hands-on, self-correcting, multi-sensory learning materials and manipulatives designed to engage children in the exploration and discovery of concepts and skills. This environment is initially prepared for the children by the teacher, or guide. Soon, the children come to understand that the environment belongs to them; consequently it is the children who accept important responsibilities for keeping the environment clean and in order throughout the year and in doing so, acquire a sense of responsibility and leadership.
Teachers who serve as Guides: The Montessori teacher is the “dynamic link” between the prepared environment, the materials and the child, the teacher’s role is that of a “guide” – she observes and if necessary, invites the child to practice and master new skills as readiness is shown. Her rigorous training allows her to present a material that will pique the child’s curiosity and generate his excitement. This develops an unabashed love of learning in the child.