Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator who invented a philosophy of education that is known today in the whole world.
At the core of her learning method was the child, seen as a person with a huge potential to be revealed, rather than someone empty to be filled in with information.She focused on creating a safe, natural and engaging environment for learning.
As the child’s needs grow, the environment will grow itself, being the most stimulating and unique place for sustaining life and the natural willingness to learn – which, as Montessori said, every child has.
Many educators summarized her method in 5 principles:
1. Respect for the Child: Teachers should not force children to be submissive and well-behaved. Each one of them has the ability and the need to choose their own way, and when they can freely do what they like, that’s the moment they learn the most.
2. The Absorbent Mind: Every child absorbs knowledge from the environment he or she is surrounded by. What Montessori wanted to say was that children can’t help but to learn! Just think about children from the age of 0 to the age of 5: they learn their mother tongue just by observing the people and the places around them!
3. Sensitive Periods: There are moments when children are more eager to learn, and these periods vary a lot from child to child.A teacher should provide the right tools to the child at the right time according to their sensitive periods.
4. The Prepared Environment: Montessori believed that children learn more when put in an environment where they can do things for themselves. The prepared environment focuses on freedom, active learning and child-based education.
5. Autoeducation: Children who can be actively involved and can freely engage with their prepared environment, being granted the freedom of choice, educate themselves.
Classrooms, being a safe environment for children, are made of multi-age groups, so children in grade 2 can sit next to children in grade 4, in the same classroom.
This gives younger students the desire to learn and the confidence in asking their older peers for help.
Whilst, for older students, this is a way to feel empowered and to master their skills by teaching them to their younger friends.
This is a concept that reflects the real world in a way public schools often forget: outside school people engage with others who are not necessarily the same age as them.
When you walk into a Montessori classroom, besides seeing children with different ages, you see people working in groups, children working alone, some who are being helped by the teacher… Each child is free to choose their own activity, so not everybody is doing the same thing: they’re following their sensitive periods, everyone at different times.
To support children, Maria Montessori created some materials that were engaging, interactive and ingenious. Every one of the tools ready for children to use stimulates them to try them and to learn from them. They are made of wood, fabric, they come from the garden, the street, the house etc. They’re all different kind of objects prepared to draw children’s attention.
These materials are all breakable. This is because at the core of her method, Maria Montessori stressed the fact that children learn from their mistakes, and since these objects are there for them and can be broken, they put so much care and so much attention in keeping them safe. The materials are simple and teach one skill at a time. The best part for children is that they feel like they’re playing, but actually they’re learning many things, one step at a time. Furthermore, they engage all aspects of a child’s mind, and stimulates the senses.
So what do teachers do in such a child-focused environment? They support children. A teacher should guide the child without letting them feel their presence: they are there to give help but they’re never in between the child and his desire to learn and be himself. A teacher is first of all an observer, and through observing, they have to change the environment and provide the tools to make every child’s journey the best possible. Also, the duty of a teacher is to introduce the material and let children use it in the most effective way.
I am a Montessori student myself. I attended a Montessori primary school and I can say today that this method shaped me. I still feel the need to learn while laying on the floor, because I believe that everyone learns in the way they prefer. I still need independence in order to really learn. I still learn in creative ways that, sadly, are not accepted by public schools.