Montessori: An Education for Life
“Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.” – Maria Montessori
Montessori is more than simply a method of education. It is a preparation for living in the adult world. It is an outlook on life with a deep reverence for the innate potential of each person. It is a spiritual mission to create a more peaceful and loving world.
Maria Montessori believed that each child is born with a unique personality and gifts, along with an innate desire to learn and to experience the world. By encouraging children’s interests and cultivating their inborn strengths, Montessori believed that children would develop into productive, community-minded adults. At heart, education must serve the whole child—intellectually, socially, physically and spiritually.
The Prepared Environment
To aid children in the process of self-discovery, Montessori designed what she called “the prepared environment.” Over the course of her career, she fine-tuned the educational materials and orderly classroom design that we continue to use today. The prepared environment includes beautiful manipulative materials for all subject areas that encourage interactive learning. Many of the materials are self-correcting, and children work through repetition to master each lesson, helping them to deeply learn the concept and develop persistence. The work emphasizes both process and product.
The Montessori classroom embraces the concept of “freedom within limits,” meaning that children have some liberty to choose their work, whether to work individually or collaboratively, and to move about the classroom. However, they are also subject to age-appropriate limits and the wisdom of their guide (and oftentimes, their peers).
Granting even the youngest children some degree of freedom helps them develop their zest for learning and their self-confidence. The freedom in a Montessori classroom also cultivates the self-discipline needed to make responsible choices and to complete a project from start to finish. At two years old, that project might consist of learning to dress independently or setting a small table for a meal. At 13 years old, it might consist of designing a better way to manage the school’s water usage, staging a play, or planning a scientific research trip.
The Montessori Guide
The Montessori teacher, or guide, as we more appropriately refer to the role, compassionately supports children in their self-development. An integral part of the prepared environment, the guide is foremost an observer trained to recognize the optimal time to present materials and lessons to children as they become ready. The guides are also models of the attitude and behaviors being cultivated in the classroom community, including respect, kindness, patience, warmth and joy in learning. Their extensive AMI training prepares them to negotiate the delicate balance of honoring the child’s interests and independence while providing the necessary limits for growth.
The Montessori classroom is not only a place for individual learning; it is a vibrant community of children, where the child learns to interact socially in a variety of ways. The 3-year cycle of the Montessori classroom enables older children to teach the younger ones. Younger children are inspired to more advanced work and social skills as they observe the older children. With such variety of levels in the classroom, each child can work at his or her own pace, encouraged by cooperation. The 3-year cycle also allows children to form meaningful relationships with their guides, who become well-acquainted with each child’s personality and development.