Sending your child off to school can be heartbreaking. You’re so used to having your son or daughter running around the house all day. But they all grow up and have to go to school. Thankfully we have free public school for all.
But if given an opportunity to educate your child in a different way, would you take advantage of it? If you have a choice of public and private schools, you want to be informed of all the different educational approaches offered. There are religious schools, private pre-schools, boarding schools, charter schools and so on.
Montessori schools span all these offerings, public and private. Before making a decision for your child, you will want to consider the Montessori Method.
What Is It?
Dr. Maria Montessori founded what became Montessori Preschools in 1907 in Rome, Italy. It began as the Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, in the lower-income sections of the city.
Dr. Montessori observed the children as they worked and played. She organized the classroom to engage the children and increase learning opportunities. She came up with the idea to follow the child as they played and studied. Teachers were to guide the children, not just give out orders and assignments. This was a much different approach than the strict learning environments of the time.
Her teaching style focused on children’s eagerness to learn and emphasized freedom, independence and psychological and social development. She published a book about her teaching methods, which was later translated into English and called “The Montessori Method.” Her book and ideas have spread all over the world. Currently there are over 4,000 Montessori schools in the United States.
How Is Montessori Different?
Montessori schools are hands on and self-paced. The teacher does not stand in front of the class, but rather mingles among the students as they learn and steps in when they need assistance. Children are placed in three-year, age-mixed groups: three- to six-year-olds, six to nine, and so on.
Older students can help mentor the younger students. These students may stay together year after year. Emphasis is placed on learning. Children are encouraged to find their passion and follow it to wherever it leads them.
Freedom with limits is part of the Montessori philosophy. There are no grades given, no tests taken and no homework assigned.
Students can begin preschool as early as six months and will have age-appropriate teaching. Students choose their own activities from a select group of options. They work uninterrupted in a set amount of time, usually three hours. The idea is that the student will learn from discovering on his or her own rather than being instructed. Children are free to move about the classroom and are encouraged to help each other.
Montessori classrooms are designed for the child. Furniture is child-sized, and books and instructional materials are within reach. Sinks, tables and chairs are lower and accessible. Artwork created by the children decorates the walls. There are open spaces where the children can do their work and spots where they can work independently or in groups depending on the project. Children work at their own pace.
Specially Trained Teachers
Teachers work with the children at their level, usually on the floor or on a couch. The teacher creates the learning environment and provides the necessary materials. Activities are designed not only for learning subjects but also for developing fine motor skills.
The teacher guides the students and give them choices but does not instruct. The teacher will only interrupt if assistance or guidance is needed. Teachers keep records and take notes to record the child’s progress. New lessons are introduced based on the teacher’s observations.
Materials for learning are placed from left to right, easiest to hardest. Children study independently and correct their own mistakes. When they feel they have mastered a certain part of a subject, they return whatever materials they had and proceed with something more challenging.
Montessori focuses on learning through all the five senses, not just watching and listening. Activities are often physical as well as mental. Since students are encouraged to work together, socialization skills are developed. Montessori believes this type of learning leads to better self-discipline, concentration and a greater love of learning.
Unique Learning Materials
Montessori schools use specially designed learning materials in their classrooms. Sandpaper-covered letters, metal shapes, bells and wood blocks are used to engage the senses while learning. The materials are arranged in the classroom within reach and are designed to capture the students’ attention. They work with the materials for as long as they would like and then return them to the shelves so other students can use them.
The materials are designed to encourage activity. They are usually brightly colored and made into unusual shapes. Other examples include colored beads, knobby balls and maps, building blocks, sticks and stackable containers.
As with the books and materials, the shapes offer the same self-correcting opportunities. When putting together a puzzle or tower of shapes, the child learns for himself that something may not fit or will not stack. The child is able to solve problems independently and does not have to be corrected by the teacher. Cubes of the same color but of different sizes isolate the concept of size. Other materials isolate different concepts such as form, color or geometric shape.
Is Montessori Right for Your Child?
Make sure you are familiar with the tenets of a Montessori education before you interview a specific school. Montessori is a teaching method and not a franchise learning facility. Each school is independently owned and is not overseen by a Montessori authority.
Normally Montessori offers smaller class sizes, but this may not always be the case. Some have 30-35 students just like a public school. It is legal to call your school “Montessori” whether you adhere to all the principles of teaching or not, so that’s another reason parents need to be careful when choosing a school.
Jennifer Landis is a 27-year-old healthy living blogger who loves yoga, running, and dancing it out with her toddler! You can find more from Jennifer at her blog, Mindfulness Mama, or by following her on Twitter: @jenniferelandis.