“Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.” -Maria Montessori
Maria Montessori’s entire approach is rooted in holism – focused as much on the immaterial (matters of the heart, psyche and spirit) as the material (learning by manipulating works with the five senses and developing motor skills). Just as man is not one dimensional, but is made up of immaterial aspects and physical material. Montessori offers a true “whole child” approach to development: cognitive, spiritual, social, emotional and physical.
The Montessori Method
Classrooms are made up of a mixed age group, which enables children to explore a myriad of materials with differing levels of difficulty and learn as they are naturally inclined. It is also to foster a child’s leadership and followership skills. Older children solidify their understanding of material they have mastered as they help younger children with their work and younger children have a heightened desire to complete a work if an older child is assisting. Classrooms contain Montessori materials set up on child-sized shelves and displayed in “areas”: Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematics, Culture and Science, and Language Arts.
The classroom is a “prepared environment” and all materials are accessible to every student at all times. This is to facilitate the guiding principle of freedom of movement and choice within limits. Children learn concrete ideas first (i.e., quantifying numbers 1-10 before asking a child to count to 20) which lays the foundation for understanding abstract ideas later. All materials are to be complete, in excellent condition and clean. Although the classroom is ultimately the teachers’ responsibility it is the children’s daily task to maintain its order and cleanliness. Montessori classrooms contain materials made of natural materials. Activities based on practical life skills and fact, replace those based on fantasy; yet creativity and imagination are given ample opportunity to blossom. In a classroom, there is only one of each set of materials, i.e., one box of wooden Numbers and Counters. Each child is taught to clean/prepare an area for work, retrieve the work, use the work, return the work to its spot on the shelf so it is ready for the next person, and clean any spills or marks left from the work. (This work cycle is taught to help children learn to respect others and their environment. It can be viewed as the beginning of cosmic education, which is understanding one’s place in the world and how an individual relates to others and ultimately, the universe.)
The Whole Child Approach
The “whole child” approach values the human spirit. Faith-based materials or lessons will be incorporated into the weekly curriculum unless parents request that their child not participate. (We will happily honor this request.) While most Montessori materials are presented to an individual child, lessons about faith will be explored as a class, with ample opportunity for children and teachers to incorporate what they’ve learned into their everyday interactions and experiences.
Social Grace and Courtesy
In addition to providing an excellent environment for cognitive and spiritual development, our Montessori program takes development of social skills a step further than a conventional preschool program. Children will be taught and invited to practice social graces and courtesy. Teachers will provide the vocabulary and guidance to enable a group of children to function independently and also in a respectful, harmonious way. Lessons on social graces and courtesy teach children to be polite, practice pleasantries and demonstrate self- control. This creates a sense of calm and purposefulness within the classroom and these skills are portable to home and community. Aside from general manners, the lessons run the gamut from how to blow their nose to how to wait instead of interrupt. Children will increase their social capacity by attending any preschool but they will have the opportunity to master social grace and courtesy by attending a Montessori preschool. Children begin developing their emotional capacity at birth; that is the ability to regulate and express emotions. We know the love and encouragement that teachers show will help to establish a trusting relationship with the child, which in turn allows the child to focus and learn in the self-directed environment. The goal for each child is joyful obedience – a level of self-discipline where the child has internalized obedience. Not blind obedience but one that is fully-informed, born of the very freedoms that exist in the classroom and developed to its fullest potential. With this level of discipline comes self-respect in which a child cannot help but to extend respect to others. The security of a respectful community allows children the freedom to learn and grow, develop confidence, and feel good about their work, themselves and others.
The last component of the whole child approach is physical development. While working with materials children will develop fine motor skills that are necessary for different life skills, i.e., transferring pom-poms with tongs develops the pincer grasp needed to properly hold a pencil. Montessori materials are sensorial experiences, requiring a child to manipulate the components. Virtually every work provides an opportunity to develop fine motor skills. Finally, crucial to every child’s physical development is outdoor play, which is when we focus on developing gross motor skills.