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Why Montessori

 

The Montessori Method

Encapsulating the Montessori Method into a short “elevator speech” is a challenge for even the most experienced Montessorian, as it is an expansive and multi-faceted philosophy. However, the pillars of the method can help to clarify its intention and focus: Freedom within Limits, The Prepared Environment, and The Observant and Aware Adult.

With these pillars, we foster the potential of every child we teach. When given the opportunity to learn in an environment designed to their specific needs and under the guidance of thoughtful and observant adults, children develop into independent and joyful learners. In this way, the method becomes a living entity, rather than a simple philosophy.


Freedom within Limits: Building Trust and Respect

When we offer children choices and opportunities, even at an early age, to have control over their learning, they feel trusted and respected. Does this mean that Montessori students can do whatever they want, whenever they want, without consequences? Of course not. Instead, they are offered what Dr. Maria Montessori termed, “Freedom within Limits.”

To see this in action: imagine your child wishes to work with a specific math material, but another child is currently using it. We purposely have only one of that material available, so that students learn patience, self-control, and time-management skills. We would guide your child to either choose another work while they are waiting, or to quietly observe the other child working. In this way, we create boundaries and offer clear choices that they have the freedom to choose between. Through this guidance, we demonstrate to the child that we trust them to use their time wisely and respect another’s concentration.

This technique applies at every stage of a child’s development. One of our Toddler students may not want to put on a coat on a blustery day, but instead of forcing the issue, the adult simply asks, “Would you like to wear the green coat or the red coat today?” The limit is that the child must still wear a coat, but they are given the freedom to choose which coat to wear, letting them feel in control of their circumstance. Alternately, our Middle School students might have the task of building a micro-economy so that they can raise money for a specific field trip. The limit is that they have to raise money, but they are given the freedom to set up the business in their own way and run it autonomously. If the business is unsuccessful, it is still a great lesson and opportunity to discuss what they would do differently in the future. As the child develops, responsibilities increase and limits expand.

Our goal, then, is not to control a child’s learning, but to guide it. A mainstream classroom might ask children to memorize, regurgitate facts, and work at the same pace as their peers. In our classrooms, you will see children asking questions, working according to their individual learning trajectories, and bursting with curiosity, because they have been taught from a very young age that their opinions and ideas matter.

Respect is at the root of our community values, because we believe it inherently helps us to experience and navigate our own freedoms and limitations. Students and staff practice and model the following values every day:

Respect for oneself – Having a sense of self-esteem, personal responsibility and autonomy developed from being a part of consistently loving and empowering community.

Respect for others – Balancing personal goals with an awareness of the welfare of others, developed through being a member of a community. This emphasizes friendship and equality, celebrates differences, and instills a responsibility for the common good.

Respect for the environment – Caring for our belongings and for the planet and its animals out of a love for both and a respect for ourselves as stewards of the Earth.


The Prepared Environment

When Dr. Maria Montessori first embarked on her work with children, classrooms in Italy were designed so that teachers could exert control over students and impart a set curriculum in the most efficient way possible. At that time, the general understanding of the human capacity to learn was that the older a child is, the more they can learn. Montessori, however, understood that the youngest child has the greatest capacity to absorb and retain knowledge. Further, she recognized that children pass through Planes of Development during which they learn in specific ways.

Only recently, with advances in brain science, can we prove that her theory is, indeed, a reality. With this idea in mind, Montessori constructed her first school, Casa dei Bambini. She was the first to design and create child-sized furniture and materials, so that the child could take ownership over the environment without physically struggling to use what it contained. As she refined her curriculum, she applied her keen observation skills to create materials that addressed the way children learned during each developmental plane.

When you walk into a Montessori classroom today, you will notice that everything is at the child’s level. Teachers sit on low stools when working with very young children, for example, instead of settling into a comfortable adult-sized chair. The children are able to access every work that is available and can sit at a table or on the floor with a work rug. Their physical comfort and ability to move afford them the freedom to learn in the way that suits them individually.

The curriculum is highly structured with each material in a Montessori classroom having a purpose and being thoughtfully arranged on the shelf, considering the specific interests and needs of the students in the room. When we watch a 15-month-old child water a plant, for example, they are not just watering a plant, they are absorbing a multitude of skills in this simple, Practical Life lesson:

  • Functional independence: I can do it myself
  • Adaptation to the environment and culture: I take care of living things
  • Development of will: I am choosing to do this
  • Coordination and refinement of movement: This time I did not spill!
  • Repetition: I can master this if I keep trying.
  • Order: First I pick up the watering can, then fill it, then pour it into the plant, then put it back on the shelf.
  • Enrichment of language: I know that this is a “watering can” and this is a “lime tree.”
  • Self-correction: Oh! I spilled on the floor. I will get a mop and clean it up.
  • Self-esteem: They trust me to do this! I did it by myself!

Each material and lesson, from birth through high school, offers this kind of deep thoughtfulness of the child’s needs and development. Montessori educators take great care to understand their students and create environments that will satiate their thirst for knowledge and suit their development.


The Observant and Aware Adult

Although Montessori teachers prepare beautiful and developmentally-appropriate environments, it is not sufficient to simply put a child in the room and expect that they will know what to do. Every Montessori teacher prepares through years of study and observation for the profound work of guiding each student’s individual educational path. They must be able to offer a variety of lessons in a day to children of different ages with different developmental and academic needs. This requires a calm awareness of where each child is at in any given moment, as well as being flexible enough to jump into a lesson when a child needs it.

Maria Montessori developed her curriculum and theories based on years of observation. Her legacy, therefore, is steeped in training teachers to observe, first and foremost, as this is the humble path to continuing to learn and grow as educators. Mario Montessori, Maria’s only child and continuer of her philosophy, shared, “If a Montessori teacher has any secret it is that the teacher is child-centered, not self-centered. Interest in each child in the class, especially the difficult, trying ones, must be sincere or the teacher will stop learning about them and be unable to help them. Insight comes from love and is creative…The Montessori teacher, putting oneself in the position of an observer, a learner, accepts a humility not common to all teachers, some of them, poor souls, feel they must maintain the façade of omniscience, that they are the only link between the child and all knowledge. Of course the teacher is important, the key to the ‘learning situation,’ but in a very different way in the Montessori class.”

Upon walking into a Montessori classroom, you might see children working alone or with others; autonomously, or receiving a lesson from a teacher or older child. You might see a teacher giving a “line time” lesson to the entire class while the other teacher watches. It would be erroneous to think that this teacher is not working. In fact, they are doing the most important work: they are observing to understand how their students learn and what they might require next.


Still Need Help Visualizing How Montessori Works?

The best way to understand how Montessori works and how it could benefit your child is to see it in practice. Hearing the passion and knowledge of our staff firsthand, seeing the looks of curious concentration on our students’ faces, lost in their own world of learning, and feeling the love and support that radiates from every corner of our community, that is something we cannot replicate on a website.

Which is why we encourage any family that is interested in learning more to schedule an individualized campus tour, which we offer every weekday morning during the school year. Choose a campus to learn more, find the right fit, then schedule a tour.

Mayfair Campus Park Hill Campus Central Park Campus

We also encourage you to check out our booklet about how to teach your child(ren) life skills at home, as it will show you how to put into practice many of the principles outlined above.



Accredited by the American Montessori Society    Accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children   Accredited by the AdvancedED

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