How is a Montessori Education Unique?
Life as a Developmental Continuum
Montessori sees the life of the child as a developmental continuum, each stage having its base in the preceding one and in turn preparing for the next. Before the age of 6 a child experiences a sensorial relationship to the environment. His or her task is to sort out reality and acquire skills of coordination, concentration, and independence. He or she is learning WHAT and WHERE. After age 6 the child learns through his or her intellect and imagination. His or her major concerns are WHY, HOW, and WHEN.
Learn by Doing
The children in a Montessori classroom learn by doing; they pursue their tasks independently either in a group or alone. The teacher acts as a guide and a stimulus to their never-ending curiosity. Montessori materials are designed to be self-correcting, which encourages independent problem solving and eliminates the correctional, disciplinary role of the traditional teacher. Teacher and students are fast friends, with a healthy respect for each other.
Montessori materials also provide key ideas and basic skills which enable the children to think creatively. The Montessori approach does not teach abstraction directly—instead, the necessary “keys” are provided so that the children can make their own discoveries. For example, in biology, at the preschool level the child learns that a bear is a mammal and a lion is a mammal. At the elementary level he is ready to relate these pieces of information, find out what individual mammals have in common and arrive at a definition of mammals. Finally, the child is introduced to taxonomy, the study of which will reveal to the child that classification approximates evolution.
This means that children arrive at abstractions through their own creative thought. It is a joyful process, part of the children’s inner development and creation of themselves rather than an intellectual veneer. The cultural subjects (geography, history, biology, geology, etc.) are treated as an integrated curriculum. The development of skills (mathematics, reading, foreign language, arts and crafts, music, etc.) are integrated as much as possible with the cultural subjects.
The environment is stocked with individualized materials, carefully sequenced to allow each child to have concrete experiences and then to progress towards abstraction through the manipulation of symbols (mathematical symbols, the written word, etc.) at his or her own rate.
The amount of manipulative materials made available to children in a Montessori environment gradually increases until a peak is reached in the 6–9 age group. There is, then, a gradual decrease in the Montessori materials per se, and a corresponding increase in the use of reference materials. Books are used as references rather than as texts. When studying any particular topic, several references are used. This helps to develop the questioning and analytical mind which expands as the research orientation of the child grows through the grade school years. When a child discovers that different sources disagree, he or she learns that he or she cannot believe something just because it is in print, and that he or she must form his or her own judgment, based on evidence he or she can accumulate. The child thus involves him or herself in research and creativity which is quite different from receiving one set of facts set forth in a text book.
Program Highlights at The Elizabeth Ann Clune Montessori School of Ithaca:
- school and learning are a part of life, not just preparation for life. Children are active learners, not passive absorbers of information.
- teachers are facilitators and guides, not mere sources of information.
- parents are goal setters and resources, not uninvolved outsiders
- community is an extension of school, not separate from school.
- programs are driven by a mission and goals, not by external criteria (such as test results).
- learning is a spiral with depth and breadth, not linear with factual accumulation alone.
- knowledge is gained through experience, not through lectures or texts.
- instruction is related to questions/inquiry, not linear or based on “right” answers.
- disciplines are integrated for connections.
- skills are related to content & seen as tools, not taught discretely and viewed as goals.
- assessment is benchmarked/progress-oriented, not norm-referenced (external, graded).
- success is determined over time–not competitively-based.
- process is as important as the content of the product, and the product is not the end in itself.
- intelligence is recognized as varied not as a mere measure of linguistic/mathematic abilities, and expressed by real-life accomplishment.
- school/learning is a challenging, fun part of life, not a task to be endured.
Our Philosophy in Action
For this kind of exploration to be effective, each child must have the possibility of making choices and pursuing these choices. Large, uninterrupted time blocks are provided in order to allow each child to pursue his or her work to its end and to his or her satisfaction. A natural work cycle and long concentration span develops which is refreshing, not fatiguing, to the child.
Knowledge in and of itself is interesting and delightful when made available to a child who is ready for it. There is no need to sugar coat in order to provide an incentive for learning. But the Montessori approach is not so much to accelerate mental growth as to help each child fulfill his or her potential. Children have different styles of learning, and Montessori educators recognize that unless the environment reflects the philosophy of respect for the individual in its design, and provides more than one way of developing a particular skill, it is programming failure for some children.
While the child before 6 is relatively egocentric in order to concentrate on the important task of building his individual self, the 6–12 year old is outgoing and social. At all levels an important factor in establishing community feeling is the mixture of ages in the classes. Since each child proceeds at his or her own pace, each is better able to enjoy his or her own accomplishments without constant comparison. This attitude frees the children to like each other and to be cooperative.
Blending of Age Groups
Mixed ages means that younger children learn from the older, both directly and through observation of their work. The older ones in turn reinforce and clarify their knowledge when they teach younger ones. Moral education and self-discipline evolve naturally as the children interact with one another in an environment which offers the opportunity to grow and develop socially, emotionally , and intellectually in an integrated fashion.
Children, thus respected, arrive at adolescence with self-control, social grace, and intellectual skills which enable them to make intelligent choices about their behavior and role in the future.