The need for our children to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills has become even more important as they face the challenges to come in our rapidly changing world. Montessori is an educational philosophy that supports a student’s innate curiosity and freedom to question, encouraging adaptability and independence.
The concepts of the Montessori approach to education are elegant in their simplicity, yet based on sophisticated understandings of the relationship between human development, learning, and environment. In understanding what makes a Montessori education remarkable, it is helpful to understand some of the basic tenets of Dr. Maria Montessori’s work and their relevancy to the needs of education today.
- Teacher as facilitator (Guide on the side) Montessori believed that teachers should be a guide-on-the-side rather than a sage-on-the-stage. A top-down learning environment is non-productive for the student. Education is most successful when the student is an independent learner. Also, Montessori teachers must complete extensive training to become credentialed Montessori teachers. “The child is truly a miraculous being, and this should be felt deeply by the educator,” said Montessori.
- Respect for the child (Whose journey is it?) Along the same lines as teacher as facilitator, in a Montessori environment, there is a deep respect for the student. Students flourish in a setting that is supportive and respectful of their individuality, abilities, and potential.
- Intrinsically motivated (No gold stars) Probably one of Montessori’s most meaningful tenets is helping students to work for their own goals, satisfaction, and interest, and not for external rewards. It is widely recognized that individuals are more highly motivated when they have a vested interest in their pursuits and goals.
- Prepared environment (The best for the littlest) A Montessori classroom is designed with thoughtful structure that facilitates students making choices and learning at their own pace. It is an environment that develops independent problem-solving skills by allowing students time to explore, discover, concentrate, research, and learn. The teacher closely monitors the progress of each student, helping her make good choices that support learning and exploration of all subjects within an academic curriculum.
- Mixed-age classes (The real world) Montessori classrooms have 3, 4, and 5-year old students in one classroom, just as first, second, and third-grade students or fourth, fifth, and sixth-grade students are in one classroom. This promotes peer learning; students learn from and teach each other, developing collaboration and leadership skills, compassion, and mastery of the material.
- Three-year cycle(Optimal outcomes) Students remain with the same teacher for three years, allowing teachers to gain an intimate knowledge of each student’s individual learning style and potential. And it provides consistency in a student’s academic life. A spiraling curriculum throughout the three-year cycle develops a deeper understanding of academic subjects.
- Method and materials(Timeless) Many of the materials Montessori developed 100 years ago are used in classrooms today. For example, the sequencing materials students use are highly applicable to the strict syntax necessary for computer programming or building software applications. Also, many of the self-correcting Montessori materials enable students to be successful without adult intervention, encouraging a student’s independence and self-confidence.
- Practical life skills (Dignity) Students engage in tasks that relate directly to everyday practical skills. Caring for yourself and your environment, organizing, and using household materials, are employed in the classroom to help students build critical-thinking, decision-making skills, and fine-motor coordination skills.
- Grace and courtesy (Harmony) Being thoughtful of the needs of others and engaging with others in a respectful manner are important characteristics of a Montessori education. These are the building blocks for the peace curriculum that is ever-present in a Montessori school. Compassion is a characteristic held in high regard within the Montessori curriculum.
- Life-long learner (Intrepid explorers) Curiosity and a life-long intellectual pursuit of knowledge is a means for life. Learning is not simply to complete an assignment or achieve a satisfactory test score.
- Critical thinker(Inside & outside the box) Always using exploration and experience, students are encouraged to make informed decisions. Students learn to gather information, make comparisons, and apply what works to each problem or situation, with a focus on understanding the process of discovery and developing independent, problem-solving skills.
- Confident learner with a strong sense of self(Fall down seven times, get up eight) Montessori students learn to take risks in their academic work and think creatively without a fear of failure. When they do fail, they see it as a learning experience and know how to independently recover and get back on track.