What is Montessori? A Brief Introduction

Every day someone asks me what is Montessori and why do I send my children to a Montessori school.  This isn’t a short answer because there are so many ways to describe the vision of Dr. Montessori.  AMI has a wonderful brochure that I will interpret today for the benefit of parents who don’t know anything about Montessori. 

Let’s start with a brief description of the educational programs available at most Montessori schools.

Dr. Montessori believed that people begin constructing themselves at birth.  The youngest program in a Montessori school is a Nido, or infant environment.  The environment is prepared for children ages two to sixteen months, or until they are steady walkers.  Although, White Bear Montessori has an infant environment, we do not offer a full-time Nido program at this time.

The Parent-Infant Class is located in the infant environment and is generally a two-hour session for parents and infants to interact with each other within the environment under the guidance of a trained guide.  

In Minnesota, children move into the Toddler Community when they are 16 months old and are a steady walker (this is a state law).  Large motor skills, independence and language are fostered by the toddler guide who inherently respects the individual personalities of each child. 

The Children’s House is for children 3 to 6 years and is your best alternative to a traditional daycare or preschool.  Dr. Montessori describes this age as “The Absorbent Mind” because children have the ability to effortlessly absorb everything about their culture, language and environment.  The Montessori environment includes activities in Practical Life, Sensorial Materials, Language, Mathematics, Geography, Biology, Botany, Zoology, Art and Music.  I have written an lengthy description of the Montessori Children’s House here.

The Elementary Community is for children ages 6 to 12 years and is divided into lower and upper elementary environments.  White Bear Montessori currently has a Lower Elementary for children in their first, second and third year of elementary school.  After their third year, they graduate from WBMS and are highly prepared for any upper elementary school program. 

Unlike the Children’s House, the elementary children work in small groups in a research style of learning.  They continue to follow their interests  and work on projects that engage their intellect.  The elementary guide teaches lessons to help the child understand the universe and their unique place in it. 

Note: a full post on the elementary program is coming soon.

What is the philosophy of a Montessori education?

Montessori education is frequently described as an “Aide to Life.”  It is designed to help children with the task of creating themselves as a person as they grow from infant to adult.  This philosophy is successful because it gives the teacher flexibility to adapt to the needs of each individual child, regardless of their skill level, learning style or social maturity.  The Montessori environment is designed for mixed age groups to allow for academic and social development.  There is a symbiotic relationship where the younger children observe the advanced skills of the older children, and in turn the older children help the younger children as they develop skills.  

What is a prepared environment?

Dr. Montessori took the traditional style of a classroom and developed a prepared environment.  It is carefully designed to allow children the freedom to move about the room and choose work that most interests the child.  Each piece of material is specifically chosen to create a stimulating, beautiful and ordered environment.  Each activity is scientifically designed to teach a skill that may or may not be obvious to the adult observer.  

A prepared environment is created with natural colors and materials that do not over-stimulate the child’s mind.  There is a specific arrangement to the room, as well as each material, which is intentionally prepared to create a calm environment where the child can concentrate on their chosen work.  Furniture and materials are all created in the perfect size for the child’s age and hand. 

“The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” Dr. Maria Montessori

Who is the Montessori Guide?

Historically, the name for the teacher in a Montessori school is a guide.  The role of the guide in a Montessori environment is to lead or “guide” a child to engage in purposeful work which is determined by the guide’s observation of their needs.  The child develops his own knowledge through hands-on activities with didactic materials he chooses (didactic means ‘to have a purpose’). 

The Joy of Learning

My favorite part of a Montessori community is the widespread joy of learning, both in the children, the guides, and their parents.  The joy of learning is a fundamental building block to a happy and productive life from infancy to adulthood.  As parents, we have a critical responsibility to raise children to appreciate the world around us and act responsibly as human beings within our communities and as members of a larger society.

Who is Dr. Maria Montessori?

Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870 and died in Holland in 1952, after a lifetime devoted to the study of child development. Dr Montessori was a true pioneer. The first woman to qualify in Italy as a doctor of medicine, she became increasingly interested in the needs of children. By 1900 she was Professor of Pedagogy at the University of Rome. Her early work centered on women’s rights and social reform and evolved to encompass a totally innovative approach to education.

The name Casa dei Bambini, or Children's House, was suggested to Montessori, and the first Casa opened on January 6, 1907, enrolling 50 or 60 children between the ages of two or three and six or seven.

Her success in Italy led to international recognition, and for over 40 years she traveled all over the world, lecturing, writing and establishing training programs.  The Montessori method was widely acclaimed and accepted. It was soon imitated, often by well-meaning people who did not have the time or the opportunity to study the system in depth. As a consequence she created the Association Montessori Internationale to promote a true understanding of what is perhaps more a science than a philosophy, and to maintain the high standards Dr Montessori insisted upon.

Danielle Cloe