Why it's such a popular alternative to standard educational practices
Almost a hundred years ago, Dr. Maria Montessori began to demonstrate that the natural curiosity of young children could be the center of an education that effectively develops their true capacities. Montessori education has proved equally successful in settings as different as the slums of Rome and the suburbs of Silicon Valley. Its advocates have included Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Buckminster Fuller, Bertrand Russell, Jean Piaget, Alfred Adler, Erik Erikson, and Mahatma Gandhi. Its graduates include Jeff Bezos, Dakota Fanning, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Julia Child, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, and Helen Hunt.
Its most distinctive and important elements are:
- Children learn in an atmosphere of love, respect, and genuine consideration.
Montessori education respects children and their innate drive to learn, seeing them as growing, developing people with individual abilities, approaches, and angles on life.
- Children learn in a specially prepared environment rich in many different kinds of educational materials.
Under their teachers’ guidance, children discover and use these materials at their own pace, individually and together. They are active learners, not passive receivers.
- Students learn in a multi-age classroom in which each child works at his or her own level in each area of a carefully integrated curriculum.
Combining children of different ages allows them to learn from and teach each other as well as to receive guidance from their teachers and to pursue their own interests. The integrated curriculum ties separate subjects together into studies of the physical universe, life, and the human experience.
- There are no grades or comparisons to others.
Working from goals set jointly each year and reviewed each quarter by child, family, and teacher, each student evaluates his or her own work, gauges progress toward objectives, decides where improvements can be made, and notes successes and accomplishments.
- Students are prepared for the real world of cooperation, independent thinking, and decision-making.
Children work together, following individual and small-group interests, to do research and plan projects, carry them out, and present them to others. They also participate in the community outside the school through field trips, community service, and connections with students in other schools.
Advantages and Benefits of Montessori Education
I want my child to develop his/her full potential. A Montessori environment is uniquely suited to helping children develop their full potentials for the following reasons:
- Children are encouraged to work at their own paces, making full use of their individual capacities and readiness
- Study and research on a subject is not limited by a standardized curriculum and time limits for that subject; children can explore a subject in depth
- Because the natural curiosity and intelligence of children is not repressed by an adult's preconceived notions of a child's inability to grasp a concept, the children often learn more and work harder than many adults would expect
- A Montessori-trained Guide (teacher) continually observes the child's progress and knows when to introduce new materials and higher levels of challenge; a child's weaknesses and strengths are well known and not overlooked.
I want my child to be responsible. A child learns responsibility by having the experience of being responsible for things in the child's daily life. The younger children in a Montessori Environment practice responsibility for their workplace and their friends by putting away items they use, cleaning their work area, caring for animals and plants, and using good manners with their friends. The older children are additionally responsible for planning their time well in order to accomplish their goals, and for completing and evaluating their projects. Discussions at this level often lead to ideas about global responsibility and local service projects.
I want my child to be respectful and compassionate toward others. Dr. Montessori observed an interesting phenomenon in children who made full use of their capacities with intellectual or creative work—they became not only more calm, but more loving toward others. The respect of the Montessori Guides and Assistants toward the children—the attitude that each child has his/her unique set of abilities and interests that help the child to unfold and develop into a special human being—is reflected back to us by the children's respect toward us and other children. In their environment of mixed ages, which simulates real life more closely than age-segregated classrooms, children develop compassion, tolerance, and respect for other children who are working at different levels or in different ways than themselves. In a non-competitive environment, they are empowered to help each other and collaborate on projects, just as co-workers in a business setting would do. They learn how to peacefully negotiate an agreement or compromise, how to express their feelings without using put-downs, and how to discuss and respect a group decision. Our hope is that these “peaceful children” will be ambassadors of a more peaceful world.
I want my child to be creative. A child who has a broad base of information about the real world is able to creatively use imagination to express new ideas. Dr. Montessori discovered that children who were given a lot of fantasy stories were often confused about reality. Until a child reaches the stage of being able to clearly distinguish between fantasy and reality, usually between age 5 and 7, a child often believes that fantasy is real—animals can talk, superheroes exist, monsters are real, etc. A Montessori Environment offers the child information and experiences with reality to give a firm footing in the real world and to provide the basis for creative imagination. In addition, activities are offered for art and music appreciation, beginning drama is part of the grammar activities, and art and music techniques are demonstrated that the children may practice. Children include artwork in their research projects and like to dramatize their history work, often writing their own scripts. Individuality in expression is prized!
I want my child to have self-discipline. Self-discipline is one of the main benefits of a Montessori Education. Unlike other systems where reward and punishment are used for modifying behavior, the Montessori system has a Helping Discipline with natural consequences. Rewards such as grades, stars, prizes, and even the praise of the teacher cause a child to be motivated for external reasons. In other educational systems, punishments such as writing the child's name on the board, being sent to the Principal, staying in at recess, and having to do extra work are deterrents for a few students, but research has shown it is usually the same students who were punished in the beginning of the year who are still being punished at the end of the year. The external deterrent is not really effective. In the Montessori Environment, Helping Discipline guides children to explore their feelings and needs, think about the consequences of their behavior choices, and evaluate the outcome. Allowing natural consequences to occur helps the child to learn both the positive and negative outcomes of different behaviors, and at the same time gives the child the opportunity to try again at a later time. Because children are guided toward thinking about the good of all, and not just themselves, they develop an Internal Locus of Control, or self-discipline, that will invaluably aid them when they are in peer pressure situations. Recent research indicates that Montessori students who have attended through Elementary Level were rated as acting more independently and responsibly than their peers in public middle school.
I want my child to be able to make good decisions. Decision making is part of the daily experience in a Montessori Environment. Rather than having learning activities planned by a teacher, Montessori children choose from a large range of activities to which they have been introduced. Dr. Montessori observed that children are attracted to activities that correspond with sensitive periods in their development, and that, when given the freedom to choose, will often work for long periods at such activities. This helps to increase attention span and concentration. The Elementary children also have a large range of activities and interests and are helped by their Guide to form learning goals. Some adults wonder if a child will avoid one area of study or not be well-rounded with this type of learning. In fact, children who stay in a Montessori Environment through the full course of the Elementary years typically learn more than their age peers at other schools because they are learning skills at the right moment—the point in their individual development when they are interested and ready. Additionally, it has been observed that children in a Montessori class are busy working an average of 80-90% of their class time, compared to 25-40% in many traditional systems.
I want my child to be a self-motivated learner, excited about learning. Children benefit from making decisions about their activities because they stay excited about learning. Montessori Guides are trained to lead and inspire children with basic stories and lessons about their universe. These lessons, stories, and demonstrations evoke questions from the children that they can research for more information. Because they learn to question and to find answers, they are motivated to learn in a way that could never be obtained from assignments. They learn how to use various resources, including the library, the Internet, and personal interviews, to get the information they seek. These skills will be invaluable to them throughout their lives, no matter what field they plan to pursue.
I want my child to be successful. Your child will be successful in a Montessori Environment because each child is evaluated by his/her personal successes, rather than being compared with others. In author Alfie Kohn's research of hundreds of studies conducted in classrooms and workplaces, he found that it was the absence of competition, reward, and punishment that is required for excellence. The self-esteem a child gains through meaningful, intelligent activities along with immense respect from the Guides and Assistants is of the greatest importance to the child's future.