A Brief Overview of Montessori Education

What is Montessori education?

Montessori education is an instructional method based on the philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952). The method has been successfully utilized in schools across the globe for over one hundred years. The Montessori method is a highly effective way to educate students because it is tailored to the way children naturally learn. Classrooms feature a hands-on learning style which helps make concepts concrete.

What are the main features of Montessori education?

1) Freedom of Choice- Students may select their work from within a prescribed range of options. Students can work on different materials/ concepts simultaneously; students do not need to wait for others to complete tasks or master concepts before moving forward. Each student can progress through the materials at his or her appropriate pace.

2) Freedom of Movement- Students may work at tables or on the floor, alone or with friends, according to their individual preferences. Students may move throughout the classroom at will, selecting books and educational materials or meeting their personal needs.

3) The Montessori Materials- Maria Montessori designed specialized materials to promote a deeper understanding of academic concepts. Materials generally incorporate a sensory component, usually visual and tactile. The materials move students gradually from the concrete toward the abstract, until subject mastery is achieved.

4) The Prepared Environment- The Montessori classroom is beautiful, tidy, and homey. The materials or “jobs” for each subject are arranged on shelves in a specific manner. They go from left to right, easiest to most challenging, and are meant to entice the child to want to touch and explore them. Jobs are arranged in subject-matter groupings throughout the classroom and are always available to the students. The environment also contains child-sized furniture, artwork, live plants, and often pets as well. Classrooms are very thoughtfully organized; they are both stimulating and enriching.

5) A Trained Guide- All Montessori teachers have received specialized training. They hold both a state credential and an AMS (American Montessori Society) or AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) certified Montessori credential, which is similar to earning a Master’s degree. Montessori teachers have a thorough understanding of child development, Montessori practice and ideology, and the specific use of every material for their age group. Montessori teachers spend less time on direct instruction and more time guiding the students through their own activities and discoveries.

6) Multi-Age Classrooms- Dr. Montessori observed that all children develop social and academic skills at an individual pace; they do not reach developmental benchmarks at the exact same age, but at different points throughout a certain range of ages. For example, all children will not suddenly read when they turn six, but the majority of children will begin reading sometime between the ages of four and seven. Multi-age classrooms allow students to work with others at a similar level of development, not just a similar age. The practice also fosters subject mastery and community building by allowing more advanced students to teach and assist their peers. In addition, when teachers work with children for more than one school year, they are better able to get to know the children and their families, form strong bonds, and meet the needs of students in the classroom.

7) Student Responsibility- Montessori prepares children for adulthood by promoting independence and setting high standards for personal responsibility. Students are responsible for planning their own time and work schedules, for gathering and putting away their materials, for assisting with cleaning, helping to care for pets and plants and other chores, for meeting their personal needs, for asking for help, for coping with their emotions in appropriate ways, and for helping their teacher and classmates. Practical life skills are promoted to help children become capable and confident people.

8) Community- Montessori students share materials and work together, helping and teaching one another. Parents are also encouraged to become a part of this community by assisting in the classroom. In many classrooms, parents may also be invited to lead lessons, sharing their special skills, culture, or knowledge with the children. Montessori teachers try to facilitate parent education and communication because students are most successful when parents and teachers work as a team.

9) Inclusion- Cultural studies, social emotional learning, and peace education help students become kind, courageous, and globally-minded citizens. The Montessori environment is one which embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Is Montessori a good fit for every child?
It is! The Montessori method was originally developed for children with diverse needs. The method was so successful with this population, it began to be utilized in schools for neurotypical students as well. Montessori education is a perfect choice for English learners because it provides a visual or hands-on component to bring meaning to words. In addition, the job times give students abundant opportunities to interact and converse with one another. Attention deficits are less noticeable in a Montessori classroom because teachers allow for freedom of movement. The Montessori method minimizes behavioral challenges by letting children choose their own activity. Because they are following their interests, students are engaged and less likely to seek attention in undesirable ways. Montessori teachers encourage you to conduct your own research, visit a Montessori classroom, and see the effectiveness of the method for yourselves!

By Jessica Beckinger

K/1 Montessori Teacher at Birch Lane Elementary School