The Montessori approach was founded by Maria Montessori in the early 1900s. It recognises the intense curiosity of young children and their almost effortless ability to learn in which their minds simply absorb information.
The fundamentals of the Montessori approach are that, during the first six years of life, all children:
- Have an ‘absorbent’ mind.
- Have strong urges to communicate, to be independent and to explore.
- Learn primarily through their senses and through movement.
- Have a natural cycle of learning within which there are ‘sensitive periods’. These sensitive periods are unique windows of opportunities for assisting the child’s development. They are periods of time in which the child concentrates mainly on one aspect of his or her environment to the exclusion of all else – an inner compulsion. There is a Sensitive Period for language, sense of order, social behaviour, small objects, refinement of the senses, and coordination of movement. These sensitive periods assist the child’s development without effort. For example, children aged 0–6 years are particularly sensitive to acquiring language. You may have noticed that, even from being a small baby, your child is fascinated with speech. This sensitivity will evolve, in due course, to communication in a written form.
The aim of Montessori teaching is to promote learning by providing:
- An environment that relates to the child’s particular needs at any particular phase of his or her whole development.
- The freedom for children to follow their natural urge to learn through their own direct experiences.
It is a feature of Montessori Schools that there is a mixed age group and, while developing individual skills, the children will also benefit socially. They learn from each other as well as from the trained adults. These adults are called ‘directors/directresses’ because their main role is to guide and direct the children on their path of exploration rather than to teach them. They clearly present (demonstrate) the activities to the child and then give them the freedom to repeat and explore the activities for themselves.
Montessori teaching materials
The specially-designed teaching materials at The Beehive are arranged into specific areas of the Montessori curriculum. The equipment is fully accessible on open, low-level shelves in order to allow the children the freedom to select their own activity and engage in it for as long as they wish. Everything is child-sized – even the dustpan and brush and washing-up bowls. The Montessori materials are designed such that the users can understand what is expected and can assess their success in completing the task. The children ‘work’ independently, although we offer guidance when it is required.
The areas of learning are:
Features and benefits of Montessori teaching
- It teaches the child how to learn and promotes a desire to learn.
- Children work at their own pace within a carefully-structured environment; they learn independently and select the activities that interest them. This promotes more effective learning.
- The activities follow the natural progression which a child’s mind requires for real understanding, taking one difficulty and one concept at a time.
- The approach reaches beyond academic achievement. It also teaches social skills and respect for others, fosters care, kindness and thoughtfulness towards others and develops the child as an individual.
- It encourages the children to work together rather than compete against one another. Progress is not compared with the achievements of their friends. “Competition should be introduced only after the child has gained confidence in the use of basic skills”. (Maria Montessori)
Many of the materials are self-correcting, which means that the children can see at a glance if they have made a mistake and can put it right without the help of a Directress.
Maria Montessori was a truly remarkable woman. Born in 1870, she was the first woman to be granted a medical degree from an Italian University. Later she became interested in children who were thought of as ‘abnormal’. Eventually she became director of a school for such children where her teaching achieved remarkable results.
Her attention turned to ‘normal’ children, whom she felt must have vast potentials that went unrecognised by the education system of the time. Her life work began in 1907 with a group of children from slums when she opened her famous ‘Casa dei Bambini’ or ‘Children’s House’. Through her observations and work with these individuals, she discovered their remarkable, almost effortless, ability to learn. She noticed that children aged 0–6 years had minds unlike those of adults, as they seemed to absorb vast amounts of information without any effort by the child. Children teach themselves. This simple but profound truth formed the cornerstone of her life-long pursuit of education reform.
Over the next forty years of constant observation and experimentation with differing teaching materials, Maria Montessori developed her method of education. She allowed the children to work independently and choose the activities that interested them. She noticed that this approach allowed the children to develop considerable concentration and self-discipline. Thus, the Montessori teaching method is based on ‘following the child’, recognising the needs and characteristics of children of each age group and reconstructing the corresponding environment that best meets these needs.