What's Different about Montessori?

Urban Garden Montessori Little Rock Montessori School Primary student age 3 working
Primary (ages 3-6)
Through detailed observation of children, Montessori came to believe that every child is a complete entity and has from birth both the pattern for her/his unfolding (the “spiritual embryo”) and the inborn drive toward self-construction.  “The full development of himself is his unique and ultimate goal in life.”  (P. Polk Lillard)

Montessori teachers and guides create rich environments in which children have the freedom to explore, experiment and create.  The Montessori classroom is comprised of six components: the concept of freedom, structure and order, reality and nature, beauty and atmosphere, the Montessori materials and the development of community. (Polk Lillard)

In crafting the environment, each guide must take into account the unique attributes of the plane of development of their students. The students choose from carefully crafted materials and activities which encourage a deep level of concentration and focus.  Especially in the early years, the child finds joy and peace within this profound concentration, and through this ability to complete works of great scope and depth, develops self-discipline and self-knowledge which results in a growing sense of independence and self-confidence.

Another central role of the Montessori guide is the observation of the child in the environment so that s/he knows when the child is ready for new or different material.  Montessori wrote, “In the advanced as in the primary stage, the first step to take in order to become a Montessori teacher is to shed omnipotence and to become a joyous observer.”   By continued careful observation of each student in a variety of activities, the guide can give many opportunities for the child to experience the joy of a deepening control and mastery over his or her environment. 

In this way, the students are continually engaging in works that are enriching and challenging. The guide’s careful observation and response to her findings allow her to follow the child, guiding and expanding her boundaries as the child gains in ability and confidence.  This interactive relationship of teacher, environment and student allows for the deep and significant learning that defines a Montessori education.

Montessori said that without freedom the child cannot construct himself.  Allowing the child at every stage the freedom to choose constructive work that supports the work of that plane of development is key to his success.

In the primary level, (ages 3 to 6) the child practices the practical life skills so crucial to independence at the physical level. Materials that develop and refine both small and large muscle movement are a key part of this environment. Once these skills are well underway, the child is eager for reading and writing as the next step in her journey to independence.  The beautiful sandpaper letters and other specially crafted materials invite the child to practice these skills over and over again.  The need for repetition is great at this age, and so the child is free to repeat these works until she is sated. The sensitive period for mathematics comes toward the end of the primary years.  Once again, the environment contains the materials the child needs to satisfy their drive to begin to master this new concept.
Elementary students work together
Elementary students (6-12) use the skills they have begun to acquire in their primary years to strive to understand and communicate with the world beyond them. They take on questions of What? Who? How? When? Why? and then seek to share the knowledge they’ve gained with those around them.  However, he is no longer satisfied with working alone.  The child, by this age, is a social being and must be free to work in groups to accomplish his task.  The students’ work is large in scope, often incorporating many skills at once.  They must hone those skills they had started to acquire in language and mathematics, to study history, geometry and other cultural subjects that are of great interest at this time.  Still, the materials aid the child’s imagination while providing structure to his learning. 

At the middle and upper school level, the students’ activities naturally take on a larger scale, academically, socially and physically. Montessori described the adolescent generally in terms of a state of expectation; a tendency towards creative work; a need for strengthening self-confidence; sensitivity to rudeness and humiliation; and, developing a sense of justice and personal dignity.  She also observed the adolescent’s need to form “an understanding of the society which he is about to enter to play his part as a man.” (Montessori, 1976, p. 98; Paul Epstein) 
upper sc
As in every plane, the students in a Montessori middle or upper school classroom have the freedom to follow those interests that speak to their particular sensitivities: In adolescence, creative outlets often include music making opportunities, visual arts, and writing, either journalistic or creative in nature; many classes have community outreach projects that focus on issues that the students have strong feelings about, thereby giving the students the chance to directly affect a situation they would like to see changed.  Very often, these students run a business, and take charge of every aspect of the business. These opportunities encourage the adolescent student to work with others to create something larger than themselves and work as a full member of the larger community.
Tags: primary lower-elementary upper-elementary curriculum