What does “Montessori” mean?

The Montessori method is named for Dr. Maria Montessori, who devoted her life to the observation and study of children. Montessori is a comprehensive approach to education from birth to adulthood. Beginning her work over a century ago, Dr. Montessori developed her approach through the observation of children from many cultures and economic backgrounds. It succeeds because it draws its principles from the natural development of the child. The inherent flexibility of the method allows it to be adapted to the needs of the individual, regardless of ability, learning style or social maturity. Dr. Montessori believed the needs, talents, gifts, and special individuality of each child were important as a developmental guide.

Using this approach she created “prepared environments” for multi­age groups (0-­3, 3-­6, 6­-9, 9­-12, and 12-­14). The environments contain specifically designed materials for development that invite children to engage in learning activities of their own choice. Under the guidance of a trained teacher (guide), children in a Montessori classroom learn by making discoveries with the materials, cultivating concentration, motivation, self­ discipline, and a love of learning.

Montessori is a hands ­on approach to learning that encompasses the use of the five senses, kinetic movement, spatial refinement, and small and large motor skill coordination. With this concrete knowledge, children find their own way to an understanding of concepts. This is combined with a deep love and need for purposeful work. The Montessori method emphasizes self­ reliance and independence in the classroom and at home by teaching children the skills to do as much for themselves as they are capable of. The trained teacher (guide) is an artful organizer of experiences for the child to discover, process and practice. Constant and ongoing observation by the guide is one of the foundations of the Montessori program.

The Montessori preschool and kindergarten environment
is designed to stimulate exploration of each child’s interests. She developed a curriculum focusing on math, language, sensory exploration, art, music, and practical life skills. Abstract ideas are introduced as a hands-on exploration. Gradually this leads the child to a self- discovery of the concept. In the classroom, lessons are given individually on isolated aspects of an abstract idea that children put together on their own to form a cohesive whole. In this way each learned skill or lesson becomes a building block for the next, helping the child to experience success.

The second plane of development Maria Montessori noted includes ages six through twelve. Just as for three-to six-year-old children, there are work choices, movement with purpose, and freedom within limits. The lessons at the elementary level are given in group settings, as the social aspect of learning is becoming more and more important. The elementary structure integrates personal choice as well, where children learn to manage their time, while also managing and prioritizing their work. Each child keeps a daily record and uses this to plan their own education. Ultimately, this structure is a preparation for life. Montessori wrote, “the elementary child has reached a new level of development. Before she was interested in things: working with her hands, learning their names. Now she is interested mainly in the how and why; the problem of cause and effect.”

The job of the elementary guide is to show the world’s interconnectedness and create a class that allows children to discover it for themselves. The Montessori classroom offers children opportunities to learn, develop, and succeed in a nurturing, enriching, and appropriate learning environment. The second plane child begins to explore ideals and the struggle of conflicting interests. The elementary class compares the history that brought us here and what we want the future to be. The imagination is given new possibilities and gives inspiration for learning. This is a time for seeing the world as they would have it be and find a way to be a part of it.

Adolescence is the third plane, present around ages twelve to eighteen. Montessori middle schools focus on the first half of this period, ages twelve to fifteen or 7-8th grade. Social connections become even more critical a this time and young people begin to exhibit a strong desire to remain independent from adults. It is the Montessori guide’s job to find ways to allow youth to experiment with independence within a safe structure and facilitate ways for learners to refine their own personal moral compasses, develop a stronger sense of responsibility, and contribute to more and more of the planning and decision making within the learning environment. Mutual aid, connections with nature, and engaging and vigorous interaction with the arts, humanities and sciences/STEM make this program enriching, memorable, and validating.