Montessori is a philosophy and method of education which emphasizes the potential of the child and which develops this potential by utilizing specially trained teachers and specially designed teaching materials.
Montessori recognizes in each child a natural curiosity and desire to learn: the Montessori materials awaken this desire and channel this curiosity into a learning experience which each child can enjoy. Montessori materials help the child to better understand what they learn by associating an abstract concept with a concrete sensorial experience. In this manner, the Montessori child is actually learning, and not simply memorizing. The Montessori Method stresses that the child learns and progresses at their own pace so that fast learners are not held back, and slow learners are not frustrated by their inability to keep up.
Montessori allows children to experience the excitement of learning by their own choice. Dr. Montessori observed that it was easier for a child to learn a particular skill during the corresponding “sensitive period” than at any other time in life. These are periods of intense fascination for learning a particular skill and are an optimal time to master a new ability.
Montessori allows children the freedom to select individual activities which correspond to their own interest and readiness, allowing them to progress at their own pace. A child who acquires the basic skills of reading and arithmetic in this natural way has the advantage of beginning education without drudgery, boredom, or discouragement.
Montessori is based on a profound respect for each child’s personality. Children make decisions about what they will learn, choosing from activities provided by the Directress. Children are allowed a large measure of independence which in turn forms the basis of self–discipline.
As children progress at their own pace and successfully complete the self-correcting exercises, they develop confidence in their ability to understand what they are learning.
Montessori presents endless opportunities among the children for mutual help, help which is joyfully given and joyfully received. Co–operative social interaction among children of different ages engenders feelings of friendship, respect for the rights of others, and self-confidence.
This approach helps eliminate the necessity for coercion, which often causes feelings of inferiority and stress for children.
The Montessori environment includes a fine balance between structure and freedom. The concept of freedom, a freedom which entails responsibility, is gradually introduced from the time the children enter school. Montessori children have a wide variety of constructive paths to choose. They gain the skills and tools to accomplish their choices and are taught the social values that enable them to make enlightened choices.
Undisciplined and unskilled children are not free, but rather are slaves to their immediate desires. Allowing undisciplined behaviour to proliferate merely forms a habit that is later hard to change. Children do not benefit from destructive behaviour; they become unhappy. Freedom does not involve only being able to do what you want to do. It involves being able to distinguish what is constructive and beneficial and then being able to carry it out.
Experience tells us that creativity cannot be taught and that the child’s environment tends to either foster or restrict creativity. To foster creativity, Montessori realized that the environment must itself be beautiful, harmonious, and based on reality in order for children to organize their perceptions of it. Then they will be capable of selecting and emphasizing those processes necessary for creative endeavours. Children, therefore, need freedom to develop creativity—freedom to select what attracts them in their environment, to relate to it without interruption and for as long as they like, to discover solutions and ideas and select answers on their own, and to communicate and share their discoveries with others at will. Children in the Montessori classroom are free from the judgment of an outside authority which only serves to inhibit the creative impulse.
The habits and skills which a child develops in a Montessori class last a lifetime. Since a Montessori education is successful in developing concentration, self–discipline, a love of learning, and social skills, the child is better equipped to enter new situations and to easily adjust to the traditional school environment. Good habits that are acquired early in a child’s life result in a lifelong pursuit of knowledge.
The Montessori classroom offers 500 unique self–teaching materials. These materials accommodate many levels of ability. They are not “teaching aids” in the traditional sense, because their goal is not only the external one of teaching children skills or imparting knowledge through "correct usage." Rather, their goal is an internal one of aiding children's mental development and self-construction.
They aid this growth by providing stimuli that capture children’s attention and initiate a natural form of concentration. Children then use the apparatus to develop coordination, attention to details, and good work habits. When the environment offers materials that stimulate children, the teacher is then able to give them the freedom needed for healthy development.
A multi–faceted approach to reading and spelling, which includes a phonetic and sight word approach plus the colour–coding of materials, enables children to move at their own pace. Command boxes and movable grammar materials excite the children's interest and help them to accomplish more difficult tasks.
Montessori’s concrete approach to mathematics allows a clear and simplified understanding of our number system. The materials isolate the difficulties and provide a control of error. Thus, the child is able to perform the work with minimum interference from an adult and therefore receives the satisfaction of self–accomplishment.
“The child has one intuitive aim: self development. He desperately wants to develop his resources, his ability to cope with a strange, complex world. He wants to do and see and learn for himself through his senses and not through the eyes of an adult. The child who accomplishes this moves into harmony with his world. He becomes a full person. He is educated.”