“The secret of success [in education] is found to lie in the right use of imagination in awakening interest, and the stimulation of seeds of interest already sown.”
How do you sum up a life’s work in a few short essays? Well, you don’t. The vastness of Maria Montessori’s motivation and effort in seeking to understand how children best become the individuals they are intended to be defies brief commentary, instead begging for contemplation and discussion. But for our purposes here, I would like to merely introduce you to this brilliant physician-turned-educator who contributed such a significant amount of literature, based on her exploration, observation and understanding of children, to the educational world.
Dr. Montessori’s philosophy has at its heart a profound trust of a child’s ability to learn about the world. Human beings, she realized, have a fundamental need to explore, manipulate and subsequently adapt to their environment, and children should be given the opportunity to do the same in a small-scale, but real, environment of their own. Her thoughts and methods came about as a result of her experience in formulating a learning opportunity, and educational materials, for developmentally-impaired children in a low-income area, children who were thought to be “unteachable”. These children later defied stereotypes and expectations by not only learning to the level of, but often even surpassing, their more privileged age-mates.
How did she accomplish this? Through some seemingly simple, but profoundly meaningful, principles:
- a structured and orderly environment
- freedom with responsibility
- interest-led work choices (Montessori called the tasks in her classroom “works”)
- well-constructed materials that are self-correcting, leading to independence and thus to self-confidence
- respect for others and their work
- a teacher who does not actively impart knowledge, but guides the child to discover for themselves the truths about their environment
“The children in our schools are free, but that does not mean there is no organization. Organization, in fact, is necessary…if the children are to be free to work.”~Maria Montessori
“When Montessori discussed freedom, she invariably mentioned its relationship to responsibility and self-discipline. We need freedom to exercise responsibility; we need the ability to be responsible before we can be truly free.”
~Paula Polk Lillard
Freedom with responsibility: In a Montessori classroom, children are not told what work to choose. The are taught, by demonstration with very few words, to use materials and then left to explore them as they wish. They can work alone or with a partner, or observe quietly someone else working. But along with this freedom comes the responsibility to care for the space, the materials, and the other students. The freedom Montessori speaks of is not born of a child’s whim or emotional desires, but his intellectual curiosity.
“We discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being” ~Montessori
“Learning is made possible for the children, it is not forced.” ~Paula Polk Lillard
Interest-led work choices: Montessori came to believe through observation of children that they could be trusted to choose what they needed developmentally, and repeat that task until they found mastery. Children were not interrupted in their work but were left to their own concentration and focus. On occasion, a teacher would guide a child to a different task but great respect was given to their choices.
Well-constructed, self-correcting materials: Montessori believed that children were attracted to beauty, and that they wanted to have a part in the adult world. Children mimic, and that is how they learn and adapt to their environment. Montessori’s materials, developed during years of observation and work with children, are child-sized, aesthetically pleasing, and well-made. It is not necessary to purchase all Montessori materials, but the basic premise must remain true. Each work has an element of self-correction, meaning that when the work is completed properly, the child can see for himself if he has done it correctly or not. For example, in a one-to-one correspondence counting work, a child might have tiles with the numbers 0 to 9 printed on them and manipulatives to count. The teacher will have specifically set out the exact number of counters needed (45) so that there would be none left once the child has completed the work. This allows for accuracy and independence in the task and leads to self-confidence in the child’s own abilities.
Respect for others: Visitors who are unfamiliar with the Montessori classroom are usually surprised at the calm and quiet that reigns even at the preschool level. Children are taught, and then expected to follow, clear guidelines of respect for the school environment and their peers. Children are to wait patiently for a work they’d like to use, walk around and never on another child’s work space, put work back as they found it and in the proper place, use each work purposefully, and use politeness when dealing with others.
The teacher’s role: Montessori teachers are guides and examples for the children to follow. Their role is to demonstrate the correct way to use a work, and then step back to allow the child to learn from it herself. They are to observe the children to discover their individual developmental needs and interests and guide them to reach their full potential as a whole human being.
These are some of the main tenets of Montessori’s philosophy, and the framework we will use to discuss homeschooling young children in the next two weeks.
If you have any questions you’d like me to answer, please leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to address them.
Join me tomorrow when I will post on the categories of works and how to use them in your homeschool. And stick with me till the end of the ten days and I’ll have a giveaway too!
Be sure to visit these other wonderful homeschoolers in the next 2 weeks as they share on topics they are passionate about:
10 days of socialization for mom | The Homeschool Chick
10 days of classical education | Milk and Cookies
10 days of large families | Chocolate on My Cranium
10 days of special needs | Special Needs Homeschooling
10 days of struggling learners | Homeschooling the Chaotic Family
10 days of homeschooling girls | Homegrown Mom
10 days of homeschool enrichment | Confessions of a Homeschooler
10 days of building a spiritual legacy | Mommy Missions
10 days of frugal homeschooling |The Happy Housewife
10 days of Charlotte Mason | Our Journey Westward
10 days of unschooling | Homeschooling Belle
10 days of organization | Confessions of an Organized Homeschool Mom
10 days of getting started | Blog, She Wrote
10 days of homeschooling boys | The Tie That Binds Us
10 days of homeschooling Montessori | Fruit in Season
10 days of preschool | Delightful Learning