What is Montessori education?

Montessori is child-centred education designed to help all children reach their fullest potential – at their own pace. Its real-world approach inspires a love of learning and readies students to study, work and live successfully in the 21st century.

The Montessori approach to education is based on the work and research of Dr. Maria Montessori. It provides students a carefully planned, stimulating environment that helps them develop an excellent foundation for learning and leadership.

The Montessori method doesn’t try to put square pegs into round holes; instead it’s deliberately flexible to work with the child’s developmental needs and characteristics rather than trying to fit the child to the needs and characteristics of the teacher or the system.

Montessori supports the development of skills that are part of the learning process. Unlike conventional education, it doesn’t rely on the memorization of facts, but mastering the learning process for use in all areas of study and of life. Children learn “at their own pace.”

Some of the hallmarks of traditional Montessori education include:

The whole child approach

Montessori promotes the development of social skills, emotional growth and physical coordination as well as cognitive preparation for future academics. The curriculum allows the child to experience the joy of learning and gives the child time to enjoy the process. This joy of learning enhances the development of self-esteem, and provides the experiences from which students create their knowledge through self-directed learning.

The “Prepared Environment”

The environments of the Montessori classroom are like nothing else you see in schools. For self-directed learning to take place, the whole learning environment – classroom, materials and social setting / atmosphere – must support the child. The teacher provides the necessary resources, including opportunities for children to function in a safe and positive environment. Together, the teacher and child form a relationship based on trust and respect that fosters self-confidence and enables the children to explore and discover.

The Montessori Materials

Dr. Montessori observed the kinds of activities that children enjoy and return to repeatedly, which led her to design a number of multi-sensory, sequential and self-correcting materials. The material facilitates learning, which builds from the concrete and sensorial to the abstract.

The Teacher

The Montessori teacher functions as a designer of the environment, resource person, role model, demonstrator, record-keeper and meticulous observer of each child’s behaviour and growth. Extensive training is required for a full Montessori credential. It includes classroom practice teaching that’s specialized for the age group the teacher will work with, such as infant and toddler; 3-6 year olds; 6-9 year olds; 9-12 year olds; and adolescents.

Take a look through this article from Neigbhours of Riverbend Magazine (November 2016) for more on Montessori education.

What makes Montessori so special?

Where do we begin? So much about Montessori is different from what you see in a conventional classroom. From the Montessori material, to the layout of the classroom that encourages movement, exploration and collaboration, to the three-year age grouping that encourage peer-to-peer learning, connection, and leadership – it’s all very special.

The value of a Montessori education sometimes isn’t immediately recognized by the students, but it does become evident later in life. One Montessori Academy alumna noted early in her first year of university that she seemed to be struggling less with real-life skills – and an ability to problem-solve – than her university classmates:

“As my friends and I settle into our homes and routines, we are busy and trying to figure out how to care for our environment and ourselves. For some of my friends little things such as laundry and food planning are big, menacing tasks that they are afraid of. These events which seem little and effortless to me are difficult, all-day tasks for them…

“…If every educational system had some element of practical life there would much less stress for them. I, of course still run into problems, but I feel that because of the confidence instilled in me by practical life I can problem solve things I don’t know the answers to from my knowledge of other tasks.” (G. Foulon)

Later in life and into their careers, our alumni comment that their time in Montessori is a key source of their confidence and resilience.

Who was Dr. Maria Montessori?

Montessori education was founded by Dr. Maria Montessori as a result of her scientific observations of the behaviour and needs of young children. The first woman physician to graduate from the University of Rome, Maria Montessori became involved with education as a doctor treating children labelled as mentally challenged.

In 1907 Montessori was invited to open a care centre for the children of desperately poor families in the San Lorenzo slums of Rome. Dr. Montessori called it a casa dei bambini or “Children’s House” and based the program on her observations that young children learn best in a nurturing environment, filled with developmentally appropriate materials that provide experiences contributing to the growth of self-motivated, independent learners.

Among Montessori’s revolutionary theories:

As early as 1912, Montessori was carrying her message throughout the world, including North America. After an enthusiastic first response, the method was reintroduced in the mid-1950s. Some of the organizations that were founded to advocate for Montessori education include, the Association Montessori Internationale of United States (AMI-US), the American Montessori Society (AMS), the North American Montessori Teacher’s Association (NAMTA), and The Canadian Council of Montessori Administrators (CCMA).

Today, there are more than 22,000 Montessori schools in the world. The Montessori method is internationally recognized as one of the world’s most successful educational models, and is chosen by more academics and professionals for their own children than any other alternative method of education.

What is “authentic” or traditional Montessori education?

Because Dr. Montessori material and name is in the public domain, it is possible for any individual or school to claim to be Montessori. An “authentic” or traditional Montessori classroom must have the following basic characteristics at all levels:

Montessori Academy of London is the only school in the area to offer traditional, accredited Montessori education. We were the first Junior High program established in Canada and continue to be regarded as a leader in the Montessori community, both nationally and abroad. We feel strongly that children benefit most from a full, accredited program that adheres closely to Dr. Montessori’s original work and findings.

Interested in becoming a Montessori teacher?

Inspire the JOY in learning  – Montessori Teaching InfoSheet (PDF)
For more… How to become a Montessori Teacher (Wikihow.com)

Science and education experts also back Montessori education

“IQ tests of children educated according to the Montessori method revealed they enjoyed a higher level of intelligence than the children educated according to the traditional method.”

Source: “The Impact of Montessori Teaching Method on IQ Levels of 5-Year-Old Children,” Ahmadpour & Mujembari.Procedia. Social and Behavioral Sciences. Oct. 9, 2015.

“The shift in (education’s) goal doesn’t require years of research or armies of consultants or vast funding. It doesn’t involve reinventing the wheel. Thousands of Montessori schools have been on this track for many years, with extraordinary results.”

– Steve Denning, “The Single Best Idea for Reforming K-12 Education,” Forbes, September 2011

Montessori supports concentration, self-regulation and confidence in children, all of which benefit them later in life. Writer, researcher and education advocate Laura Flores Shaw discusses the key characteristics and competencies that Montessori supports in this brief video:  https://laurafloresshaw.com/portfolio/the-core-of-montessori/

Studies reveal that early years and elementary Montessori education provides the foundation for better performance in high school. In “Outcomes for Students in a Montessori Program: A Longitudinal Study of the Experience in the Milwaukee Public Schools” (AMI/USA May, 2003),” researchers found that “attending a Montessori program from the approximate age of three to 11 predicts significantly higher mathematics and science standardized test scores in high school.” A full PDF of the study is available: http://tinyurl.com/mont-study-1 

“Montessori education elevated all children’s performance on several measures, and made the performance of groups that typically do less well more equal. First, academic performance of children in Montessori programs was significantly stronger over time. They performed slightly (but not significantly) better at the first time point, perhaps because children had on average almost 2 months of school program experience at the first test, with some children having a full 3.5 months. By the third and fourth time point, the differences in academic achievement were significant.”

Source: Montessori Preschool Elevates and Equalizes Child Outcomes: A Longitudinal Study’ (Lillard, Heise, Richey, Tong, Hart and Bray: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01783/full