What does a Montessori education really mean? We look at the history and principles of this fascinating learning model.
Montessori is regarded across the world as a leading method of education for children. It is applied in preschools, daycares, and kindergartens — as well as in many homes by parents who are eager to support their child’s curiosity for learning and playing. Today, there are over 4,000 Montessori schools in the US, but what does this alternate method of education entail, and what does Montessori mean?
The essence of Montessori learning is enabling independence and child-led exploration when playing and learning. It centers on the idea that, because children have a huge, natural curiosity for the world around them, they need to be able to lead their learning. This is encouraged through Montessori learning environments, which enable children to experiment and foster a sense of independence.
While our children rely on us for a great many things, there are a lot of activities and tasks they don’t necessarily need our support with. As parents, it’s natural to want to help our children out, but it’s equally as important to foster their independence and allow them to lead their play and learning where it’s appropriate and safe to do so.
So how can we practice Montessori ideals in our own home? Let’s explore.
What Does Montessori Mean? It Means Freedom within Safe Limits
An example of this in a Montessori classroom or daycare setting would be a range of different activities laid out that each child is free to choose from, rather than being told what to play with. Variety is great for all of us, especially children, and Montessori enables young minds to select what they play with — discovering things themselves rather than following what an adult decides should happen.
Through different activities and Montessori learning toys, a child is placed at the center of his or her own learning journey.
Where Did the Term Montessori Originate?
The practice of Montessori originated in Italy. It was developed around the early 1900s by physician Maria Montessori, which is where the practice gets its name from.
As a teaching and learning method, Montessori is most popular with children aged three to six, however many of its principles can be applied to children of all ages — older and younger.
In her learning, Maria Montessori wanted to create a method of education that complemented children’s natural curiosity — rather than going against it or stifling creativity with adult-led methods and assessments unsuitable for young, active minds.
What Are the Main Principles of Montessori?
Montessori learning has many principles at its heart, but these are some of its core aims:
Focusing on the Whole Child - Rather than prioritizing grades and thinking narrowly in terms of learning outcomes, Montessori looks at the overall development of the child. This encompasses their social, physical, emotional, and mental education. Montessori learning can include physical activities such as balance, yoga, and dancing, as well as activities to develop social and emotional awareness alongside learning, such as drawing, counting, and discovering books.
Designed Environment - A Montessori setting is prepared for children to be able to discover and explore a range of activities, toys, and learning at their own pace and within their own preferences. As well as laying out activities, toys, and games ready for children to jump right into, this principle can also include the setup of the rest of the space, for example, low shelving and materials carefully organized for ease of access.
Individualized Learning - Rather than trying to teach the same one curriculum to a room full of children, Montessori encourages individual expression and exploration. This means that one child’s learning focus and goals may be completely different from the next. In a Montessori school, each child’s abilities and levels will be monitored by teachers, and their curriculum will be personally tailored to their needs.
While this may sound difficult to facilitate, the Montessori ethos of encouraging independent play and learning makes this possible, as children don’t require adult intervention and guidance all of the time.
Practical, Experiential Learning - Because Montessori strongly encourages discovery and experimentation as forms of learning, it offers children the opportunity to learn through experience rather than just theory. For example, instead of sitting down to complete a maths booklet, a child may be given physical objects and materials to count. The Montessori method believes that children learn best by experiencing, rather than just passively sitting and listening.
What Are the Main Benefits of Montessori Learning?
When considering what Montessori means, parents are naturally keen to understand the advantages this alternative method of education can bring to their children. The benefits of Montessori are far-reaching, offering children an alternate approach to how they learn in early childhood. The above principles encourage the development of skills that they can carry with them through to adulthood.
Here are some of the key benefits of using Montessori methods with children:
- Confidence in their own abilities.
- Independence and self-sufficiency.
- Children feeling valued as individuals.
- Supporting concentration and pride in achievements.
- Nurturing curiosity and wonder for understanding their world.
- Allowing children to assess their own learning and to self-correct.
- Enabling children to enjoy a sense of freedom within parameters set by teachers or parents.
How Is Montessori Practiced Today?
In addition to the 4,000 specialist Montessori schools in the US, many early-education settings incorporate elements of Montessori learning methods within their curriculum. You can speak to your childcare or school setting to ask about this, and if there are particular things you feel are important, ask if these can be included within the curriculum or as part of certain activities.
How Can I Incorporate Montessori Learning into Family Life with My Children?
Regardless of whether or not the educational setting you chose incorporates Montessori into the curriculum, there are lots of ways you can do so at home.
Here are some simple ways to practice a Montessori education to help your child feel in control of their learning — discovering and experimenting as they go:
- Choose Montessori learning toys for your home, as these will naturally promote curiosity and independence, allowing your child to experiment and remain in charge of their own play.
- Set out a few activities for your child, rather than not giving them any choice in what they do. While this can seem like a lot to organize, it actually doesn’t need to take up lots of time. It could be putting out a music device, a simple, self-led craft activity, and some cars and a ramp. Your child can then decide which to play with first and involve you if they wish.
- Rather than telling your child something, try to show them. For example, when talking about numbers, play with figures together and count them or bake together and encourage them to count out or weigh ingredients.
Understanding what Montessori means can help both teachers and parents support children to learn through playing, discovering, and experimenting — making it a method of education extremely worthy of exploring.
We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences around following some of or all of the Montessori principles in your family life. Join us over on Facebook or Instagram to share your story and keep in touch with the Jooki team!