What do Jeff Bezos and pre-schoolers have in common? Maybe not much at a surface level, but recently, the e-commerce giant donated a massive $1bn to fund low-income Montessori preschools. Many famous athletes and musicians are montessori educated.
So, what is the Montessori method?
The Montessori Method was developed by an Italian professor, Dr Maria Montessori in the early 1900s. Dr. Montessori believed that children learn better when they’re choosing what to learn, and that philosophy is present in Montessori classrooms today. Things that make it unique in a learning environment include:
- Various activity stations for children to choose from throughout the day.
- In an educational environment, teachers moving from group to group instead of standing at the front of the classroom.
- A non-traditional grading system
- A focus on the whole student—social, emotional, intellectual and physical development - are all taken into account.
In Dr Montessori’s research, she saw that very young children were frequently frustrated in their attempts to do things for themselves and that they needed specific exercises, closely linked to real life. This allowed the children to master the tasks that they see going on around them in everyday life, giving them essential life skills.
In her research, Dr Montessori also learned that unlike adults, children weren’t interested in achieving end results quickly, but more interested in the actual learning process. As a result, they happily repeated exercises again and again, enjoying the process. Practical life activities are therefore an important part of the Montessori philosophy.
Children are attracted to activities that they see going on around them that give them independence and control of their own life. Dr Montessori later introduced materials and exercises into her learning environments that allowed children the maximum possible opportunity to learn how to look after themselves and their environment.
Think every day life skills in a child-friendly way and that is the Montessori method i.e. children learning to do up and undo clothes, cooking and baking - spooning and pouring exercises, stirring, whisking, cutting and other activities such as threading, simple tasks of opening and closing doors, carrying trays and chairs, washing and drying hands and caring for books.
The need for structure, self-correction and quiet reflection are all qualities that Dr Montessori saw were needed for children to develop as they should. When she saw that children were particularly drawn to certain activities, she concentrated on developing materials and activities to stimulate further – sensory learning in relation to length, width, temperature, mass and colour.
Montessori believed that children have mathematical minds and she actually revolutionised the way in which mathematics is taught today. The materials for Montessori mathematics introduce the concept of quantity and the symbols 1 through to 10. Then, using a variety of beads and symbol cards, the child becomes familiar with the numbers as a decimal system and the operation of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. These operations not only teach the child to calculate, but they provide a deep understanding of how numbers function.
Montessori was a great believer in indirect preparation. By this, we mean that she found clever ways in which children learned how to do things without even realising that they were learning. For example, she created sets of pen tools that children used for drawing that actually helped form the fine motor skills for subsequent writing.
Many of the practical life and sensorial exercises were designed with this in mind. When the child is ready, we begin to teach the phonetic sounds of the letters; then we move on to word building and recognition and finally, book reading. She found that writing comes as part of the child s natural desire to express his or her new knowledge and nearly always precedes reading. One of the most wonderful times for children and teachers is when the children share the excitement of finding that they can put their thoughts down on paper and there is a subsequent explosion into writing.
Montessori saw that young children were full of curiosity and loved exploring new things for themselves. She also saw that they wanted to explore things in increasingly complex ways. When she experimented with what they might be interested in she was astonished just how much they wanted to know and how much they were able to remember. She therefore tried to find ways to help them understand the world beyond their own environments. As in all other areas of her work she was careful to let the children lead her in their interests and she was surprised to find that they very easily learnt not only the simple, but also the technical names of the new things that they were introduced to. In fact, Montessori children frequently astonish adults with their in-depth knowledge of the subjects they are studying.
Art and creativity
Self expression is a true value of Montessori and this revolutionary professor felt that it was very important for children to be allowed to express themselves freely. She was aware, however, that they are very often frustrated by the fine motor skills they need for such things as cutting and gluing. She therefore developed many indirect activities that helped children develop the necessary abilities. The Montessori environment is full of opportunities to experiment with different and exciting materials. Whether involved in painting, singing, playing instruments or dancing, children are allowed to be individuals, free to express their feelings and emotions and free to enjoy the rich worlds of movement, sound, colour and sensation.
Montessori nurseries and schools tend to offer the children activities that are based on real activities of the everyday world, because Dr Maria Montessori felt that very young children need such experiences. In a Montessori school, therefore, you are much more likely to see children actually washing, cleaning and cooking rather than pretending to do these activities.
Being outdoors is very important. Children develop gross motor skills as they climb, jump and swing and also social skills as they take turns on equipment and play hide and seek. Montessori believed strongly that children should be in touch with the substance of their world, encouraging work with clay, gardening and growing activities, and even building little houses. Contrary to the belief that a sandpit has no place in a Montessori nursery, it has been suggested that Maria Montessori invented the idea.
Children aren’t born with an innate knowledge of why we shake hands, or kiss, or rub noses depending on our culture and in the Montessori classroom they learn appropriate greetings. As they become aware of other cultures they are encouraged to celebrate differences and value them equally. During circle time children are shown how to move quietly and carefully around the classroom, push in chairs, wait patiently before politely gaining someone s attention and are reminded how important it is to allow others to work undisturbed. These ground rules in the classroom give every child total security. Children also learn to notice if somebody needs help and that nobody is too small to be useful.
A loving community
Above all, a Montessori environment is one where adults and children care for one other and aren’t afraid to show it. It is somewhere where you can learn as much as possible about all the things that interest you without being scared about the things that don’t. It is where you can be yourself and can learn to really love learning.
Our first ever product, the FunPod was developed on this method of learning and now the inspiration for the FunPod, namely Aimee, my daughter, is confident in the kitchen and has a good understanding of nutrition and food and the science that is baking and cooking.