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By Duhovka Preschool Montessori methodologist and Duhovka Montessori Teacher Education Program Director Dorothy Paul.
Dr. Maria Montessori realized through her observation, that children already possess the full potential of the person whom they will become. In an environment that offers the opportunity for curiosity to be encouraged and satisfied, this potential may blossom to its highest possibility.
The three guiding principles in Montessori philosophy include respect for one’s self, respect for others, and respect for the environment. While there is a clear and structured curriculum, the approach to each concept may vary, depending on the needs of the individual child.
In respecting one’s self
The young child learns that their thoughts and ideas are valued. Self-respect is learned through stating one’s boundaries, solving issues as they arise, being given the chance to make decisions, and given space to self-correct – all which leads to trusting in one’s self.
In respecting others
As the child realizes that they are an equal member of a bigger system, they learn to cooperate within the class, by both offering and asking for help, as the need arises. This creates a mutual respect between students and a trust builds both internally and within the group.
In respecting their environment
The lessons are sequentially displayed on open shelving in the classroom. The Teacher teaches students how to correctly use the materials, and creates an expectation of behavior that includes both freedom and trust. This trust, within boundaries, allows the student to learn from the feedback they get from others. The respect shown to the materials in their handling teach value and responsibility.
The Montessori materials give the student a hands-on, ‘concrete’ approach to learning, which involves all of the senses, and engage all learning styles. Their built in qualities develop order, coordination, concentration and independence. The child is shown each step of a lesson or skill, and given time for repetition or practice. This pace creates an ordered and sequential manner, and they realize that they may actually master what seemed too big a challenge, one step at at time. This process offers structure within the child’s mind.
Our ellipse is a place we gather each day to express ourselves through song, dance, movement, drama and storytelling. It is the place where we learn about our world, see new lessons, talk about our feelings, learn to calm ours bodies and minds, and share what is important to us. It is the place where we build community.
The Teacher acts as a guide, introduces new lessons and observes each child closely. The Teacher’s role is also to bridge the students from one skill level to the next. Their role is to model correct behaviors and offer many paths for the student to learn in a prepared environment.
There is a very special step included in presenting a Montessori lesson. A ”control of error” is built in to a lesson so the child may self-correct. Self-correction is an internal process and independent of a teacher. This independent feedback the child experiences from the material (work) is an opportunity to make an adjustment in their approach. Whether a child decides to collaborate with others or independently try different options, Dr Montessori realized that this process provoked awareness and led to refinement of movement, a broadening of possible solutions and ultimately, a formation of character.
Thus, a main Principle in the Montessori approach is that the child be allowed to make mistakes!
The design in Montessori materials offer visual patterns which become the foundation to independently self-correct and learn to lean on one’s self for solutions as they arise.
We do not know that which we have not experienced...
Montessori’s use of concrete materials offer children a chance to carry their work from shelf to rug.. is it heavy or light? is it rough or smooth? ... how do the pieces relate to each other? Actively experiencing the natural world around us and handling the materials in our classroom builds our sense of self and allows us to “learn by doing”.
It is when we combine the mental and physical activities that our body and mind find harmony. This is an independent experience and can be achieved only when the environment is prepared and students are given many opportunities to independently work within it. This describes the “work“ of a Montessori classroom. It is a student’s personal work, tasks particular to them that they will work on, not as a whole, but as an individual.
While answering to his own needs, each student is absorbing all that is going on around him. Social exchanges, academic presentations, food preparation, art work, etc., give the student a chance to observe a new lesson indirectly, formulate their own ideas, create hypothesis and become familiar with a concept before it is presented to them. This indirect teaching and non-pressured learning is a natural benefit to the Montessori classroom setting.
A child needs to be shown how to do a task properly and then given time and space to practice on his own. Accept all attempts made by child as a success. His goal is not to do task as we would- but rather, to find value in each clumsy step along the way.
An example: Pouring Lesson - show a child how to carefully hold a small glass pitcher and pour - he then picks it up with both hands, clanging the sides and possibly spilling contents - and pours - this is his interpretation of lesson - this is great - he accomplished the task, using his current skill level and will eventually refine his movement. As adult ‘pours’ in his presence, he will observe and adjust. Teach by demonstration, not by correcting.
Most times, a child needs support in one small step to continue their task; (example- Sweeping Lesson children must realize the art of collecting the dirt is the tight seal between dustpan and floor/surface.
Adult shows how to create this seal, makes one sweep, turns back over to child to complete). Adults tend to take over or do too much to help, thus robbing the child of their chance to self-correct or develop perseverance and focus.
Through interaction with their environment a child naturally constructs their own personality. As they self-correct and notice cause and effect relationships, they build mental roadmaps for social, physical and emotional situations. This capacity unfolds when child is free to make choices, observe others, persist at a task and create order in his surroundings. With each success, child realizes own potential.
Example: When a child is mad yet wants to continue to play with others, who are now avoiding him, he must decide- is it more important to be mad or play? A natural consequence such as this is much more powerful than had a teacher come to ‘solve’ the issue, telling everyone how to feel or behave. Each child is his or her own best teacher.
Children must have freedom to choose, move and explore within their environment. It is only through actual experience, observation and use of their senses that they can gather and integrate real information about the world in which they live.
As child digs in garden - the teacher is the soil itself; its temperature, consistency, weight, texture, color, smell, etc. In this moment, the hand (and other senses) absorbs this information and imprints it, as fact, on a cellular level. Thus, building a relationship between the child and his world.
There are times in our development when it’s more natural for our brain to acquire certain abilities. These periods also line up with our physical development and create Sensitive Periods for learning. Most simply put; it is the most efﬁcient time to take a quantum leap in learning, when the child is most sensitive to particular stimuli and or interactions.
A Montessori Directress observes the child, and prepares the environment each day, so these periods may naturally unfold, individually, for each student. Sensitive periods include:
Birth – 3 years Language
A time when the child builds the base for all future language. Importance on speaking clearly to child, naming all things, storytelling, books, songs and poems for receptive language. Importance of conversation, playing games and involvement in daily living for expressive language.
Birth – 4 years Movement (coordination, spatial awareness, motor skills)
A time when muscular skills develop, progressing from large motor movement, to smaller ﬁ ne motor movement. The child is gaining more control of his body and learning social norms in spatial awareness.
Birth – 4.5 years Incorporating and reﬁning Senses
A time to awaken and train the senses, in order that a child can gather and respond to even the most subtle information in his environment, be it a smell, a color, a sound, etc. This prepares the mind for higher levels of cognitive thought.
18 months – 2 years Order
A time when the child is both recognizing and creating organization in their world. It includes ordering of objects and thoughts. It involves a mental schema of their world and allows for further reasoning based on observations of how the world works.
18 months – 2.5 years Manners (etiquette)
A time when a child notices order and reﬁned movement in others and may mimic ways which create a pleasant experience.
4 – 6 years Reading and math readiness leading in to skills
A time to when comparing, contrasting, noticing patterns and creating order all lead to qualitative math concepts. With introductions to concepts and practice, the next level of quantitative math becomes understood. Also a time when their oral language, imagination, and phonics build a base for reading and written language skills.
It is important to note these phases, yet it is more important to acknowledge that learning does not have an expiration date, and that our learning can continue at every age.
Maria Montessori is the surname of an Italian woman, a great warrior who was so serious about her dream of becoming a doctor that she solicited a hearing with the Pope himself and persuaded him to allow her to become the ﬁrst woman in Italy with a degree in medicine!
Did you know that Maria Montessori