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"The Montessori child should be...

truthful, courageous, free of fear, confident, attentive, self-disciplined, generous and respectful, with a love for order and the environment, a love of work as a form of self-expression, the love of silence, of working alone, independent and creative with the ability to concentrate and develop intellectually.  Overall, the child should be calm and happy."

Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work
E M Standing  1957

"Montessori freedom 

means the unlimited freedom to do right"

Maria Montessori was an Italian scientist and the first woman in Italy to obtain a degree in Medicine. She was born at Chiaravalle in Ancona in 1870 and she died in Holland in 1952 after an exceptionally brilliant career committed to the development of child education.

One of her many important psychological 'discoveries' that influenced world wide pre-school education, was the recognition that every pre-school child between the ages of two and six has a spontaneous urge to learn. Children have a natural instinct to work and therefore require an education that is ordered, creative and personal to their own needs.

The Montessori classroom of today contains special components that strictly adhere to Maria Montessori's principles and philosophy. These are real objects rather than imitation and feature glass, wood, cotton, etc. in their construction. The exercises may seem unexciting or lacking in instant attraction to parents but it is through performing successfully an array of simple tasks that the child not only learns but develops a sense of accomplishment, self-confidence and a desire to learn more.

Most of the early exercises or materials are tactile, allowing the child to learn through doing, touching or holding. All are displayed on open shelves in what Maria Montessori called a Prepared Environment.  Each child is shown on a one-to-one basis how a task is performed, is invited to repeat it as often as he or she likes and is shown how to replace the materials when the task is finished. Repetition is a vital element of the Montessori method and the child is encouraged to practise with the materials as often as he or she wants. The replacing of materials not only allows a continual presence of the Prepared Environment but conforms to the child's natural desire for order, which Maria Montessori noted as being part of the child's spontaneous self-discipline.

An equally important element is what Maria Montessori termed the Control of Error - each activity has a method for correction should it not be performed correctly. Usually this is visual, i.e. the child can see what has gone wrong or what mistake has been made and he or she is shown the way in which this 'error' can be corrected.

Thus, the Control of Error completes the learning process - the child performs an activity, he drops something or spills something but he has the knowledge and the ability of how to put things right without having to ask for help or direction.

The Montessori method is holistic and answers a child's simple questions and needs. Not with one- word answers but in such a way that he or she can seek to gain complete knowledge of a subject.

For example: What colour is the sky?  The answer is not simply 'Blue'.

Rather, by showing the child ‘blue’ in terms of all the shades of blue. Also in relation to the word ‘blue’, the individual letters that make up the word, how it is written and how it is read. Using paint and colour; through other examples of what is also blue; what the child might have on or possess which is blue and by using examples which are extremely familiar to the child. In this way, the child can acquire the entire concept of 'blue' with extended language and examples.

The reading method is phonic, again using repetition and familiarity with symbols as its basis.  The tactile approach is extended to the concepts of language and mathematics, allowing the child to physically grasp a new idea or image before taking it to its abstract.  Letter and number shapes are cut out in sandpaper, there is a movable alphabet that encourages freedom of selection and creation of language, and songs, rhymes and games are also used to explain the alphabetical and numerical abstracts.

The child has complete freedom of choice within the nursery structure and layout. He or she also has the freedom to choose whether to work independently or as part of the group. This encourages not only independence and self-discipline but also confidence and language. The confidence to make his or her own choice of activity, the language to show understanding or to request assistance, or more advanced materials. The ability to show other children how something works and, as only one example of each activity is present in the nursery, the patience to wait until a chosen activity becomes available.

The members of staff in a Montessori classroom are not known as ‘teachers’ or ‘carers’, rather as ‘directresses’, a word that accurately defines their exact role.

No teacher is employed for their special knowledge or traits but rather for their ability and training to lead the child through the Montessori curriculum enthusiastically and conscientiously, encouraging the child to develop to his or her full potential.  Without the directress, the Prepared Environment would not succeed as an educational system - she is the 'dynamic link' between the children and the environment.

Suggested reading:

A Parent's Guide to the Montessori Classroom, by A D Wolf.

This booklet describes in detail the Montessori programme for children between the ages of three and six.  It is designed to help parents understand the long range purpose of Montessori education and to give a description of the equipment which the child will be using for approximately three years.

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