More than a century ago, Dr. Maria Montessori developed a comprehensive educational approach based on her observations of children's needs and her understanding of children's natural learning tendencies.
The Montessori approach offers a broad vision of education as an aid to life. It is designed to help children with their task of inner construction as they grow from childhood to maturity. It succeeds because it draws its principles from the natural development of the child.
The child's innate passion for learning is encouraged by giving him/her opportunities to engage in spontaneous, purposeful activities with the guidance of a trained adult. Through their work, children develop concentration and joyful self-discipline. Within a framework of order, the children progress at their own pace and rhythm, according to their individual capabilities.
Mixed Age Groups
One of the hallmarks of the Montessori method is that children of mixed ages work together in the same class. Age groupings are based on developmental planes. Children from 3-6 years of age are together in Primary classes, 6-12 year olds share the elementary classes, often grouped as lower elementary for 6-9 year old children and upper elementary for children ages 9-12 years. Because the work is individual, children progress at their own pace; there is cooperation rather than competition between the ages. Younger children learn from the older children and older children naturally become classroom leaders.
The Prepared Environment
The "prepared environment" is Maria Montessori's concept that the classroom environment should be designed by the adult to facilitate maximum, independent learning and exploration by the child. Attributes of a prepared environment include order and reality, beauty and simplicity. Everything is child-sized to enhance the children's independent functioning.
In the Montessori classroom, learning materials are arranged invitingly on low, open shelves. Children may choose whatever materials they would like to use and may work for as long as the material holds their interest. When they are finished with each material, they return it to the shelf from which it came.
Because the classroom is carefully prepared to meet the needs of the child, children can work on activities of their own choice at their own pace. They experience a blend of freedom and self-discipline in a place especially designed to meet their developmental needs.
The Montessori environment contains specially designed, manipulative materials that invite children to engage in learning activities of their own individual choice. Under the guidance of a trained teacher, children in a Montessori classroom receive individualized lessons with materials and then learn by making discoveries with the materials, cultivating concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning.
In the prepared environment, there is a variety of activity as well as the opportunity for movement. The materials themselves engage the children and invite activity.
Each material in a Montessori classroom isolates one quality. In this way, the concept that the child is to discover is isolated. For example, the material known as the Pink Tower is made up of ten pink cubes of varying sizes. The cubes are all the same color and texture; the only difference is their size.
Moreover, the materials are self-correcting. When a piece does not fit or is left over, the child easily perceives the error. There is no need for adult "correction." The child is able to solve problems independently, building self-confidence, analytical thinking, and the satisfaction that comes from accomplishment.
As the child's exploration continues, the materials interrelate and build upon each other. Later, in the elementary years, new aspects of some of the materials unfold. What children begin at age three lays a foundation for future discovery and inquiry.