10 things you might not know about Montessori...

1. Consistency

Maria Montessori was a woman born ahead of her time. Born in 1870 in Italy, Montessori was a trained Physician, and later studied and received a degree in psychology; this was a time where women usually stayed at home and assumed the household duties. She is one of the only people to have a curriculum named after her and based on her findings. Her curriculum is based on her intense observations, silent examinations and scientific evidence. The Montessori equipment that we use in Montessori classrooms around the world is the same Montessori equipment that Maria Montessori invented in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

2. Holistic Development

Montessori’s whole curriculum encompasses the holistic development of a child. Her theories and beliefs start at birth and she has developed thoughts on the child until they are 18 years old. Montessori’s programme can be used at home or in schools. The key to all of her course is consistency. For this reason she feels that the child’s environments should be prepared to suit their needs at that specific time and should be easily adapted when their needs change or grow. For example, children’s playrooms should always have shelves and each shelf should contain exercises or pieces of work to challenge the child at that time. When the child has mastered the skills needed on the activities they should be removed and replaced with new and challenging tasks.

3. Montessori at Home

Montessori had many theories about Montessori in the Home and some of her beliefs include the idea of a child as young as six months old sleeping on a floor bed. A floor bed is a mattress positioned in the corner of a neutral coloured room where only two sides of the floor bed are accessible to the child. A mat is placed on the ground beside the floor bed. The floor bed helps the child to learn their limitations and abilities to move from a young age. The floor bed is kept in the bedroom and makes the transition to a big bed easier. It offers optimal safety and comfort to a child.

4. Formative Years

Montessori called the period from birth to six years the “formative years”. This is where the child forms all social norms and skills, most of their linguistic ability, refines their fine motor skills (holding a pencil), perfects their gross motor skills (walking), enhances their emotional intelligence and their intelligence is learned easily. This is why the most important period in Montessori’s curriculum is the formative years or from birth to six years old. “At birth, the child leaves a person – his mother’s womb – and this makes him independent of her bodily functions.  The baby is next endowed with an urge, or need, to face the out world and to absorb it.  We might say that he is born with ‘the psychology of world conquest.’   By absorbing what he finds about him, he forms his own personality.” Maria Montessori (The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 8, p. 84)

5. Birth to Three Years

The Montessori curriculum from the years 0-3 includes activities for beginning the concentration process, social norms and mimicking social settings (talking), using gross motor skills, basic problem solving, building vocabulary, learning about the world around the child and the world we live in and many more. An activity like matching animals to the correct picture has multiple benefits for the child. Recognising animals and matching them to the correct picture, learning the vocabulary involved, one to one interaction between adult (educator or parent) and child, self-discipline, turn taking, and builds concentration. The child in the postnatal (or psychological) period of his embryonic life, absorbs from the world about him the distinctive patterns to which the social life of his group conforms….He absorbs in short, the mathematical part…..the little child’s need for order is one of the most powerful incentives to dominate his early life." Maria Montessori (The Absorbent Mind, p. 173

6. Three to Six years

The activities in Montessori for a child aged 3-6 years enhance and develop skills touched on in 0-3 years. The activities are divided up into sections: Practical Life (based on everyday tasks in the household), Sensorial (activities that develop the senses), Mathematics (uses basic maths theories which will be taught in Primary schools), Language (learning the phonetic sounds and begins the reading and writing process) and Culture (learning about the world we live in, the solar system, natural disasters etc.). In most countries around the world this programme is used in preparation for Primary school. At this stage the child learns necessary skills for school such as sitting, concentrating on one piece of work for a certain period of time, counting and numbers, basic maths concepts, socialising, building vocabulary and how to hold a pencil and write, to name but a few. A three-year-old educated according to Montessori pedagogy, becomes a master of his hand and undertakes with a joy a variety of human activities.  These activities allow him to develop the power of concentration." Maria Montessori (San Remo Lectures, p. 27)

7. The Absorbent Mind

Montessori believed that children from birth to six years old (during the formative years) have an “absorbent mind”! This means that their mind is to information as a sponge is to water. Children should be immersed with as much knowledge and vocabulary and should be exposed to learning as many skills as possible during this period of their lives! Because of her discovery of this fact her curriculum from birth to six years is submerged with lots of activities to fill up their sponges!

8. Sensitive Periods

“Sensitive Periods” are another of Montessori’s findings. Sensitive periods are the periods of time where a child is fascinated by a certain task or skill and will constantly repeat it until the sensitive period is over! Sensitive periods occur at different times throughout the formative years and sensitive periods can occur simultaneously! For example a child could have a sensitive period for colouring in. During this period the child could colour for long periods of time. When a child is colouring in and has to colour an object the correct colour (a banana coloured in yellow) this usually signifies the closing of the sensitive period. While the child is going through a sensitive period he or she could also have a sensitive period for order. This is where the child becomes fascinated with cleaning things away and putting them in the exact place they go. "A child who has become master of his acts through long and repeated exercises, and who has been encouraged by the pleasant and interesting activities in which he has been engaged, is a child filled with health and joy and remarkable for his calmness and discipline." (Dr Maria Montessori, 'The Discovery of the Child', Clio Press Ltd, 92)

9. Work or Play

Montessori believes that children strive to work! Since they became their own being (since birth) they have seen adults around them going to ‘work’. Because children mimic and imitate their surroundings Montessori has found that children learn fast and more excitedly when activities and games are called ‘work’. Each of Montessori’s exercises are called pieces of work in a classroom! Directresses in classes always ask the child whether they can ‘work’ with a child. The child chooses whether or not they are ready or willing to work with the directress. Calling the activities pieces of work gives the children a self-confidence as he or she feels like they too are adults who are going to ‘work’! "Therefore this work which has built up civilisation and which has transformed the earth is at the very basis of life and is a fundamental part of it. So much so, that it is, as we say, even in the child. Work has existed in the nature of man as an instinct even from birth itself.... The study of society will be held to be a study of the life of the child which shows us in an embryonic stage this profound tendency of humanity and the mechanism by which society is built up." (Dr. Maria Montessori, 'Child’s Instinct to Work', AMI Communications, 1973, 4, 9)

10. The Classroom

In a Montessori classroom and indeed in a Montessori home the environment must be prepared correctly for the child. In both environments a sense of order must be created. Children love routine and love things to be in order and where they belong. In a classroom shelves must be child-sized, meaning that they can reach all the shelves from top to the bottom. On the shelves the pieces of work must be displayed neatly and with space between them. An activity is housed in a tray and the whole tray is removed from the shelf when a child is using it. There shouldn’t be more than one type of activity on the shelf to teach turn taking and sharing. Activities are displayed in the correct section of the Montessori curriculum and should be kept beside the related items. Activities are taught from concrete concepts to abstract thoughts. For example we teach the child how to count by physically counting on the numbers rods and then the numbers are taught abstractly and when both are mastered the number rods and the numbers can be used in the one activity to reinforce the amount and the number together. Because the classroom is set up in this way the child’s sense of order is fulfilled and it remains an easy task to clean up and place the piece of work back on the shelf that it belongs on!

No two days in a Montessori classroom are the same and the dynamic mood and concentration faces present make a Montessori directress’ job the best in the world! There is still, after nearly eight years, nothing better than seeing the child’s mind’s lightbulb go off when they master a task, perfect a skill or learn about the world around him!

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  • Aisling Farley
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