Dr. Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and pioneer in child development who observed that children have a natural, progressive aptitude for acquiring knowledge about their world. Building on this natural progression, Dr. Montessori developed a philosophy which embraces the whole child. She found that placing children in a specially prepared environment to meet their physical, cognitive and social needs and to satisfy their intrinsic interests, children not only learn but thrive.
"Our goal is not so much the imparting of knowledge as the unveiling and developing of the whole child."
— Maria Montessori
- Working with all your senses
- Small group instruction
- Independent learning
- Sustained concentration
- Uninterrupted work time
Maria Montessori described children between the ages of birth and six as having an “absorbent mind.” The preprimary child has the capacity to take in information from the world around him/her. Intellectual development and freedom are the fundamental tasks of the child during this period which Montessori called “conscious absorption.” The child consciously works to sort through, order, and make sense of the information he unconsciously absorbed. This work is done in an environment where he has the freedom to move purposely, to concentrate, and to choose his own direction.
The classroom, or prepared environment, is a place where the teacher brings the world to the child.
The five main areas of the Montessori preprimary classroom are: Practical life, Sensorial, Math, Language, and Cultural. The work is self-correcting, allowing the child to become his/her own teacher.
The 3-6 year old is independent and often communicating to us: “Help me to do it myself!” so the environment provides the opportunities for the child to do just that.
The teacher models precisely ordered activities, generally without talking, and they invite children to repeat what they have seen. In this way, children practice concentrating on a task, coordinating their movements, and performing actions in sequence. All of these skills are important in becoming independent.
The next plane of development Maria Montessori discusses is ages 6-9, the second plane of development. Dr. Montessori calls this plane a “calm phase of uniform growth.” The 6-9 child is building a foundation of skills that will be further developed in 9-12.
Dr. Montessori believed that at this stage of development the child’s possibilities and capacities are endless. This level will provide a wealth of curriculum that feeds the elementary child’s need for knowledge and understanding. Through their work, the child becomes a self-directed and self-disciplined learner.
Much like 3-6, there are work choices, movement with purpose, and freedom within limits. This structure has choice, where children learn to manage their time, plus manage and prioritize their work. Ultimately, this structure is a preparation for life.
“The elementary child has reached a new level of development. Before he was interested in things: working with his hands, learning their names. Now he is interested mainly in the how and why; the problem of cause and effect,”
— Dr. Montessori
The job of the teacher is to now look at the world’s interconnectedness and prepare the environment to reveal it to them.
The Upper Elementary environment looks very different from those at 3-6 and 6-9. It is designed to be responsive to the social, emotional, and academic needs of students that are 9-12 years old. You will notice some familiar Montessori materials, however.
Students at ages 9–12 are in a sensitive period for socialization and learning about their roles in the world. They are developing a keen sense of justice as well. Their work often takes the form of research about topics in science or social studies (referred to as the “Cultural Subjects”). Because of this, you will see many more books in a 9-12 classroom.
Students work independently and in groups. Often they are responsible for managing parts of the classroom and participating in planning field trips that relate to their work. Skills in time management and a sense of accountability are fostered as children learn how to maintain a balance between work and socialization. Projects and work are bigger and require more time to complete, thus children need to learn to use their time in class wisely. These are all considered to be extensions of Practical Life seen in classrooms of younger children.
The math at this level is designed to help the child move toward more abstraction. Children have wonderful materials on which they learn about and practice fractions, decimals, percents, geometry, etc., but the goal is to move away from the materials and apply their knowledge before they leave the 9-12 environment.
As much as possible, children at the 9-12 level are taught to connect learning.
Based on the Montessori belief in the interconnectedness of all life, children are encouraged to read, think, and write about their topics of study. Writing plays a major role in the 9-12 room, allowing children to share what they have learned and requiring them to think deeply about subject matter.