Over 100 years ago Dr Maria Montessori discovered a great lesson that she subsequently shared with the world. The teacher of this great lesson was a group of young children who shared with Dr Montessori the ‘Secret of Childhood’. After careful observation Dr Montessori recorded the conditions and materials that best inspired and aided the developmental learning of children. The expression and implementation of these conditions is now known as ‘The Montessori Method’.
With the spread of Montessori education throughout the world, the method has evolved with differing interpretations and applications. There are many training bodies, each presenting their own interpretation of the Montessori Method. Each one would argue the merits of their course versus another. Ultimately only Maria Montessori could define the true intentions of her work. I suspect that as a progressive visionary, she might agree that after a century of cultural, technological and social change there may be a need for some independent thought about how to apply the fundamental principles of her methods.
Perhaps there is little merit in Montessori communities arguing with one another about who most purely applies the original texts. Perhaps it is more important to remember the core intentions of Maria Montessori. She was a tireless campaigner for the rights of the child. She recognised their aptitude, revered their abilities and respected their rights unequivocally. I believe that when passionate people hold this same unwavering belief, and therefore work tirelessly to nurture the natural development of children in their care, then they are being true to the values of Dr Maria Montessori...regardless of where they were trained.
In our Montessori community, Jescott Montessori Pre-School, I can see a simple equation in the way that we support Dr Montessori’s ambitions. The Montessori Adult plus the Prepared Environment equals The Montessori Child.
The Montessori Adult
The Montessori adult may not even know that they are one. It is my belief that being a Montessori adult, whether it is a parent or teacher, is not just about the books you have read or the courses you have completed. The most vital quality of a Montessori Adult is a fundamental, unwavering belief in the beauty and importance of childhood.
The Montessori adult has strong respect for;
- Childhood– The Montessori adult sees the amazing, unrepeatable magic of childhood. In their entire lifetime a person will never do a job as important as they do in childhood. The child’s job is to build the adult.In the first 6 years of life an individual’s language, culture and personality are constructed.
- The individual – The Montessori adult understands that it is not important or beneficial for a person to mould their personality simply to ‘fit the box’. The Montessori adult aims to help children to find their individuality and feel safe to express their ideas and creativity instead of asking them to aim for an arbitrary ‘right’ answer.
- The rights of the child–The Montessori adult knows that a child is a human being who deserves equality. A child deserves the same rights, protection and liberties as an adult and, whether in the home or in public, the Montessori adult campaigns for society to recognise this.
- The responsibilities of the child–Montessori adults know that it is a compliment to bestow a child with responsibility because it demonstrates that the child is a competent, capable, equal member of society.
- The importance of time – A child deserves time. A Montessori adult recognises that children require time to explore, experiment, attempt and revise new experiences or skills. They simply have not experienced the majority of the world and so things which are ‘mundane’ to an adult can be mesmerising to a child. Life is new and wondrous to them and they deserve time to explore it so that it can remain amazing for as long as possible!
The Montessori Prepared Environment
The Prepared Environment describes the way the Montessori environment is meticulously planned, adjusted and evaluated to ensure that the potential is there for children to learn independently. The environment teaches the children as much as the teachers do, but the unseen skill that Montessori teachers possess is to create and maintain this environment in a way that is enticing and engaging for the children.
The Montessori Prepared Environment includes;
- Open, accessible shelving – The shelves are open so that the children can independently choose and pick up their own work. This promotes choice and responsibility and makes it easy for children to recall the ‘home’ of each piece of work so that they can independently replace the material when they have finished. Activities are presented in an orderly way upon the shelves, each being prepared in such a way that a child can easily carry the whole activity to a working space in order to complete it. Each activity presents only one task for the child to achieve and there is only one of each activity presented on the shelf.
- Clearly delineated and protected individual workspaces – In a Montessori environment children do not have to share. Two adults would not be expected to share the same computer keyboard at the same time because neither of them would be able to adequately concentrate or complete their work. We view the child’s work as being as important as an adult’s work and so we do not enforce sharing. Children have the right to choose whether they wish to work alone or with company. If they choose to work alone they may use their chosen material for as long as they like without interruption. To identify a child’s work you will see a boundary of where that person’s space begins and ends. Children can choose to place their work at their table space or if they prefer to work on the floor, they can define their work space by placing a Green Mat onto the carpet. Children know that if work is on a Green Mat or a table then that work belongs to someone at that moment and it cannot be taken or interrupted. This respectful attitude allows the children a feeling of security to temporarily leave their work if necessary knowing that it will be intact when they return. Other children waiting to use the same material will know that they can have their turn once the activity has been replaced on the shelf.
- Child sized, accessible cleaning tools – In a Montessori classroom the children are responsible for the care of their environment. We could not expect them to be in charge of this task if they did not have independent access to working, appropriately sized tools.
- A variety of specially designed, interesting, academically diverse materials – The classroom is filled with many different activities covering the various areas of the Montessori curriculum including Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics and Culture. The majority of these materials are constantly available so that children can repeat or revise activities at their will. The materials can be used in their simplest form or increased in difficulty for further challenge. Montessori teachers facilitate each child’s learning by carefully observing the appropriate time to introduce the next achievable challenge. Each child will have a uniquely unfolding pattern of readiness and we must follow this and be available to assist only when the child shows eagerness to learn. In a Montessori classroom the child is responsible for the lesson plans.
The Montessori Child
‘The Montessori Child’ is not one person. Nor is it one type of person. The idea of ‘The Montessori Child’ refers to thousands upon thousands of children around the world who have, in the last century, been allowed to follow their own unique path of development with the aid of Montessori. Perhaps it is best to imagine Montessori children as artists who all possess the same tools but are using them to create completely different works of art. Where the artist has paint, brushes and a canvas the Montessori child has experience, self-control and self-respect.
Each Montessori Child possesses;
- Self-respect – Montessori children have a feeling that they have rights and deserve to be respected. This also leads to awareness that others deserve the same rights. It is extremely challenging for a person to respect others if they do not respect themself and so our self-respecting Montessori children have a wonderful sense of community responsibility.
- Self-esteem – This self-esteem does not rely on an adult’s praise but is instead a healthy, solid feeling of pride based on real achievements and abilities.
- Self-reliance –Something as seemingly simple as unbuttoning their own jacket can be the most important task to a child as they feel an incredible sense of pride from being self-reliant. Montessori children are given the chance to feel the joy of self-reliance and given the time to practise the skills required to achieve this.
- Self-evaluation – The Montessori child reflects on his or her own work or behaviour and can independently assess their successes as well as the areas they need to revise. Gold stars and naughty corners do not exist in a Montessori classroom.
- Self-control – Our academic and social curriculum helps the Montessori child to exercise their mind and conscience to the point where they desire to be self-controlled. Our physical activities strengthen the grace and control of the body so that these good intentions can be the reality.
- Self-motivation – A child in a Montessori classroom will not choose the easiest option because they enjoy the process of attempting a challenge as much as they enjoy the feeling of completing it. Montessori children are inquisitive, enthusiastic learners who are always on the lookout for new ideas or experiences.
If you can provide the right blend of a caring, passionate Montessori Adult with a prepared Montessori Environment you will see the emergence of the Montessori Child. It is not a magic potion, it takes time, patience and commitment, but for more than a century in more than 22,000 schools in 110 countries of the world, the Montessori method has helped countless children to live a childhood rich in experiences, learning and love.