The heart of Montessori education is this: Children love to learn, and when we surround them with people and environments that support their development, they become responsible, compassionate, and intelligent human beings.
Dr. Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator. She observed that when children grow up in an environment that is intellectually and artistically alive and encouraging, they spontaneously ask questions, investigate, create, and explore new ideas. Dr. Montessori centered this theory on a learning experience for children that is relaxed, natural, and home-like.
All activities are sized for children and are at their level. A trained teacher (called a “guide”) prepares the environment (the classroom) so that children are able to do the work independently or in small groups once they have had a lesson in the material. The guide observes the children to determine their needs and interests, and to offer lessons that draw upon and deepen those interests. For elementary children, the prepared environment helps capture their imaginations and draws upon their reasoning minds.
Purposeful work is engaging, hands-on, and calls to the child’s inner nature. A 3-year-old’s work may include scrubbing a table, watering plants, doing a puzzle of the continents, playing sound games, making snack for a friend, painting a picture, or counting beads. A six-year-old’s work may include writing and illustrating a book of dinosaurs, doing arithmetic with bead materials, playing a reading game with a friend, or creating a collage. A 9-year-old’s work may include doing a science experiment, creating a model of the universe, or writing a book of poems.
All activities are sized for children and are at their level. A trained teacher (called a “guide”) prepares the environment (the classroom) so that children are able to do the work independently or in small groups once they have had a lesson in the material. They work at their own pace and follow their own interests, within the community guidelines of safety and kindness to others. Children also have a two-hour work cycle in the afternoon (if they don’t take a nap).
With three years of students grouped together in the Casa and Elementary classrooms, the younger students are inspired by the older students, and the older students gain confidence and show leadership in being role models for the younger students.
We provide the tools, materials, and furniture that are sized just right for the children so that they may make independent choices of work and community responsibility. We show them how to do a task (like peeling carrots or writing a letter to the mayor) or how to learn about a subject (like types of mammals or parts of a volcano), then encourage them to explore with the materials when and where they choose. For the child ages 3 to 6, their mantra is “Help me do it by myself.” For the elementary child: “Help me think for myself.”
Young children explore and work with materials that involve all of their senses, such as the bells for distinguishing changes in pitch, the smelling bottles for matching smells, and color tables for putting shades of color in order. An entire area of the classroom is devoted to materials that engage the senses, and all activities of the classroom, including math and language, often engage at least two of children’s senses. For elementary children, sensory experiences are the beginning point for lessons. To study mammals, children might first connect with a hamster or a rabbit (their classroom or a visiting pet). They will carefully touch and examine the creature as an initial step in understanding what mammals are about. Real life examples of all aspects of the curriculum are provided so that rich, multi-sensory images are created in children’s minds.
Children choose where they want to work (such as at a table or on a mat on the floor) and are free to move about the classroom (rather than having assigned seats). All of the activities in the Casa (3-to-6) environment encourage movement of all sorts–carrying trays across the room, getting water for plants, playing a fetching game with the math materials for learning counting–because movement is essential to children’s growth and development. Elementary children are also free to move about the room to accomplish their work and meet the needs of the community. At all levels, whole-group time is minimal so that children are not forced to sit for long periods of time, which is contrary to their natures.
Children are free to choose, to move, to repeat an activity, to talk to others–but within the limits of what is good for themselves and the community. Any action that hurts someone or something is immediately and firmly stopped, and children are redirected to positive uses of the materials or appropriate behavior toward others.