The Montessori Method
The Montessori Method encompasses far more than the traditional academics. The Montessori Method is designed to help children with the enormous task of developing as a human being as they grow from childhood to maturity. The Montessori approach succeeds because it draws its principles from the natural development of the child, which the teachers monitor through careful observation. Its flexibility allows each individual child’s inner directives to freely guide him toward wholesome growth. In the end, the child not only knows his academics, but he also knows and understands who he is, how he fits into the greater community and how he can best contribute to the world around him.
The Prepared Environment
Montessori classrooms serve as a prepared environment where children are free to respond to their natural tendency to work. Children view their lessons as important work in the same way that the adults in their world, whom they love and respect, also have important work to do. The children’s innate passion for learning is encouraged by opportunities to engage in spontaneous, purposeful activities with the guidance of a trained adult. Through their work, children develop concentration and joyful self-discipline. The environment is carefully designed to allow them to progress at their own pace and rhythm, according to their individual capabilities, within a framework of order.
The prepared environment contains all of the essential elements for optimal learning and development. The key components comprise the children, teacher and physical surroundings including the specifically designed Montessori educational materials. Everything is child-sized to enhance the children’s independent functioning. At MCMS, each classroom has direct access to the outdoor environment allowing children to easily explore lessons in botany and zoology.
There are prepared environments specifically designed for children at each successive developmental plane (18 months-3 years, 3-6 years, 6-9 years, 9-12 years, 12-14 years). These environments allow children to take responsibility for their own education, giving them the opportunity to become human beings able to function independently and interdependently.
Characteristics of the prepared environment include:
- Beauty, order, reality, simplicity and accessibility.
- Children must be given freedom to work and move around within suitable guidelines that enable them to act as part of a social group.
- Children at MCMS are provided with specifically designed materials which help them to explore their world and enable them to develop essential cognitive skills.
- Mixed age groups encourage all children to develop their personalities socially and intellectually at their own pace.
- Classes have an appropriate number of children to ensure social development (typically up to 29 children per class).
- A 3 hour work period is available during which the children can choose the work that interests them and develop self-direction.
The Role of the Montessori Teacher
The role of a Montessori teacher is that of an observer whose ultimate goal is to intervene less and less as the child develops. The teacher creates an atmosphere of calm, order, and joy in the classroom and is there to help and encourage the children in all their efforts, allowing them to develop self-confidence and inner discipline. With the younger students at each level, the teacher is more active, demonstrating the use of materials and presenting activities based on an assessment of the child's requirements. Knowing how to observe constructively and when and how much to intervene is one of the most important talents the Montessori teacher acquires during her rigorous Montessori training. Here at MCMS, Montessori teachers are often referred to as “Guides”, charged with the enormous responsibility of guiding each child along his individual path of learning.
The Montessori Materials
In her early work, Dr. Maria Montessori observed that the younger children were intensely attracted to sensory development materials. The children used these materials spontaneously, independently, repeatedly and with deep concentration. The children emerged from this spontaneous activity renewed and with a profound sense of inner satisfaction – not because an adult instructed them to manipulate the materials, but because they were allowed the freedom to experience the materials as they were ready. From this initial discovery, and over many years of observation, Dr. Montessori designed an entire range of Montessori materials.
In order for the materials to be of optimal benefit they must be presented to the child at the appropriate stage in her development by a trained Montessori teacher. This allows the child to engage in self-directed, purposeful activity. The materials are beautiful and enticing and are displayed in an orderly and accessible way.
One of the hallmarks of the Montessori Method is that children of mixed ages work together in the same classroom. Because the work is individual, children progress at their own pace with an emphasis on cooperation rather than competition between the ages.
Age groupings are based on Dr. Montessori’s “Planes of Development”:
- Children from 18 months-3 years of age are together in our Toddler Community
- From 3-6 years of age, children are together in the Children’s House. Three and four year olds typically spend half-days in the Montessori environment, whereas the five year olds spend a full school day in the classroom, which is equivalent to the Kindergarten experience in a conventional school setting.
- The Lower Elementary is home to 6-9 year olds and is the equivalent to grades 1-3 in a conventional school setting.
- The Upper Elementary is made up of 9-12 year olds and is the equivalent to grades 4-6 in a conventional school setting.
- The Adolescent Program at MCMS consists of 12-14 year olds, which includes grades 7 and 8 and is equivalent to the Middle School experience in a conventional school setting.
Students remain in the same classroom for the full two or three year experience, moving from the youngest to the oldest in the classroom community. Older students serve as teachers, showing younger children how to do things, which reinforces their own learning and naturally boosts their self esteem. Younger peers are often motivated to learn by observing their older peers, seeing the next steps in a series of lessons. Multi-age classrooms allow students to progress at their own pace without the stigma of grade levels and take on new challenges as they are ready without having to wait for the next school year to begin.