It is commonly misunderstood that ‘Montessori’ is just another name for nursery, kindergarten, play school or pre-kg. In reality, the Montessori system is a scientific form of education that has a philosophy with a defined process of teaching, using scientifically designed equipment.
Though more widely adopted for the age groups of 2 to 6, Montessori principles are equally applicable for higher age-groups.
Founded by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first lady physician in Italy, the Montessori Method places the learner at the center of the education process. It is based on the philosophy that the overall development of the student rests on giving the child freedom of choice within a structured environment.
Though education is a continuous process, the most crucial period of a child's development takes place between the ages of 2 and 6. The inputs received during this period are internalized by the child and play a major role in shaping the child's future.
The Montessori approach to teaching and learning can be summed up as follows:
- Young children 'learn' in a unique way from birth to around 6 years. They do not have a language or a conscious will to learn like adults do. They have an “absorbent mind” whereby, using their senses, they unconsciously create their personality by absorbing from their environment. During the first phase, from birth to 3 years, they learn to walk, speak, gain control of their hands, and master their bodily functions. By about 3 years, they move into the period of conscious work or the conscious phase of the absorbent mind. Their fundamental need during this phase is freedom - freedom to move purposefully, freedom to choose, and freedom to concentrate. Their mantra is “Let Me Do It By Myself!”
- There are certain "sensitive periods" of development (periods of a few months or even weeks), during which a child's mind is particularly open to learning specific skills or knowledge. The sensitive periods for order, movement, language and social interaction are particularly important. These skills are learned effortlessly and joyfully. Learning one of these skills outside of its corresponding sensitive period is certainly possible, but always difficult and frustrating for the child.
- The Montessori classroom is called an “Environment”. It is a special child-oriented space that is designed to be academically supportive, physically comfortable, and emotionally secure. The special layout fosters independence. Children are the masters of their schoolroom environment and are given the tools and the responsibility to manage its upkeep.
- The Montessori system is a highly hands-on approach to learning. Montessori activities require the use of the five senses, kinetic movement, motor coordination, and concrete knowledge, that later leads to abstract thinking. Every activity is complete in itself and is self-correcting. The materials are specific in design, conforming to exact dimensions. Each activity is designed to focus on a single skill, or concept.
- Children are capable of self-directed learning. The teacher is an "observer" of the child instead of a lecturer. An on-going, continuous observation of the child interacting with his or her environment is the basis for presenting new material for learning new skills.
- Children are not “forced” to learn a skill for which they are not ready. They are taught, instead, to choose their own activities and work in a focussed manner, on their chosen activity.
- In a Montessori environment, children are perceived to be “working” rather than “playing”. Children have a need to experience and understand the world around them - this is serious business for them! What looks like “play” is for them work, which they enjoy. Therefore they are not to be disturbed while they are working at their development.
- The hand is intimately connected to the developing brain in children. Children must actually touch the shapes, letters, temperatures, etc. that they are learning about – not just watch a teacher or a picture book.
- Group activity interspersed with individual activity helps children to interact in a group, learn from one another and get used to a classroom situation.
- Montessori activities for the age-group 2 ½ t0 6 center around 5 areas: Preliminary Activities, Exercises of Practical Life, Sensorial Activities, Language, and Mathematics. Cognitive and social aspects are woven into each of these areas.