An invitation to come and see
Step into a well-run Montessori classroom and you will immediately be struck by the atmosphere. There’s something different here. It’s not simply the richness and beauty of the room, or the wealth of educational materials. It’s not just the well-trained teacher. What will strike you most vividly in a Montessori classroom is the quality of the children there.
The children are active. They move about with freedom and ease. They are purposeful and engaged. They treat one another with courtesy. They are self-directed, self-disciplined learners who can work independently in a structured learning environment.
Academic skills are mastered and applied at what to many is an astonishing pace. Five-year olds read and write; they perform mathematical operations with concrete decimal systems material in four digits. Nine-year olds apply research skills developed over three years in a lower elementary class. Twelve-year olds study advanced concepts in math, science, history, and literature. They carry out independent research projects that use not just libraries and classroom materials, but take them out into the local community. At every age, learning occurs without fatigue or stress on the children. With the assistance of a Montessori-trained teacher, excellent learning materials, and a curriculum designed for their developmental tendencies, the children flourish with their work.
Standardized test scores for Montessori children verify their solid mastery of basic skills. What these scores cannot indicate, though, is the rich quality of learning that one sees in a Montessori school, where children truly learn how to learn. Many teachers have visited a Montessori classroom and been struck by the realization, “This is how I always thought learning should happen. This is how I’ve always wanted to teach!”
Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, a visit to a Montessori classroom is a vivid, memorable experience. A 30- to 60-minute observation will do more than pages of description to convey the spirit of this unique form of education, and why it has succeeded worldwide for over 100 years. Come and see!
How did Montessori education begin?
(Portions of this section are taken from the booklets, “What is Montessori Preschool?” and “What is Montessori Elementary?”, edited by David Kahn and published by the North American Montessori Teachers Association.)
Born in Italy in 1870, Maria Montessori became the first woman medical doctor in Italy. Her clinical work in medicine led her to analyze how children learn and how they build themselves from what they find in their immediate environment.
In 1906, she accepted the challenge to work with a group of sixty children of working parents from the San Lorenzo district of Rome. There she founded her famous Casa Dei Bambini, or Children’s House. What ultimately became the Montessori method of education developed there, based upon Montessori’s scientific observations of the children’s almost effortless ability to absorb knowledge from their surroundings, as well as their tireless interest in manipulating materials. Every piece of equipment, every exercise, every method Montessori developed was based on her observation and experience with children.
Maria Montessori died in Holland in 1952, but her work continues. Today, Montessori schools exist around the world. There are close to five thousand private and approximately two hundred public Montessori schools in the United States.
The Montessori Classroom: A Child-Centered Community
The Montessori classroom is made up of children of mixed ages. The preschool and elementary classrooms are based on mixed-age groupings: 3-6 year olds in the preschool, ages 6-9 and 9-12 in the lower and upper elementary classes, ages 12-14 in the middle school program. Each child usually has the same teacher for three years (two years in the middle school). The mixed-age grouping of children corresponds to Maria Montessori’s view of child development.
In the multi-age setting, the children learn from each other, and they learn because of each other. Younger children get a chance to look ahead and see what is coming next by watching the older children. Older children have the opportunity to reinforce their knowledge by sharing it with the younger children.
In the preschool class, the children learn to take responsibility for themselves and for each other. They learn to get along with children of different ages and abilities, to respect each other’s work and work space, and to treat each other with courtesy. The classroom becomes a thriving community where children are treated with respect and dignity and want to treat others with the same respect and dignity.
The elementary-aged child is in a period of heightened social development, so he needs group experiences. Multi-age groupings mean more small-group options relative to ability and interest. They also mean maximizing the potential of each individual child in an environment that has a place for everyone, providing a profound sense of belonging.
Middle school ushers in a new level of independence, which must be provided for in the Montessori environment by increasing activity from the point of view of work level, choices, and planning. In the middle school, the Great Lessons, timelines, and charts are replaced with overviews of general sequences of learning for which the student becomes responsible in the context of an integrated whole. Within this overview, the student has open time to collaborate on both self-initiated and instructor-initiated projects. The general premise for the adolescent program is that it must bring into consciousness the moral and world view of the elementary years. Philosophical ideas related to natural history and cultural history now come into play. Great Lessons evolve into great ideas derived from a serious approach to the humanities. For example, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” may be tied to a specific part of American history, but this ideal also has a life in the history of philosophy and literature.
For a more detailed description of Montessori education for each grade level at The Good Shepherd Catholic Montessori, please click on each grade level under the Academics tab.