What is Montessori?
The Montessori Philosophy is based on the principle that all children are intrinsically motivated to learn and that they possess an ‘Absorbent Mind’. They absorb knowledge without effort from their environment when provided with the right kinds of activities at the right time in their development. A very high level of learning, both conscious and unconscious, can come at ease to all children irrespective of their age and/or ability.
It identifies certain ‘Sensitive Periods’ in a child’s development. That is certain periods of time in which a child is particularly receptive to particular types of learning. In the Montessori method, the curriculum is tailored to the child’s development to ensure that concepts and skills are introduced at a time when the child is most sensitive to them.
The intrinsic flexibility of the Montessori method allows a child to learn and progress at his or her own pace, which means that a child of advanced ability can develop intellectually well above ‘grade level’ whilst remaining within his or her peer group.
The Montessori classroom allows physical, intellectual and social freedom for the child within a carefully planned and structured environment. The materials used in the classroom are created to inspire the child’s interest as well as to demonstrate a specific concept. In the pre-school classroom, the materials enable the younger child to master the basic skills of every day living in addition to the more academic areas of mathematics and language.
Independence and self-confidence developed in the classroom form an important foundation for the child’s ongoing intellectual and social development.
Absorbent Mind periods
The first phase of the absorbent mind period is from birth to three years and is the most informative time in a child’s development.
During this first phase, the young child unknowingly and unconsciously acquires their basic abilities. Dr Montessori called it the period of unconscious creation or the unconscious absorbent mind.
The child’s work during this period is to become independent from the adult for their basic human functions. The child learns to speak, to walk, to gain control of their hands, and to master physical movements. Once these basic skills are learnt the child moves into the next phase of the absorbent mind.
During the second phase, called the period of conscious work, the conscious absorbent mind compels them to perfect what is already there. A fundamental task during this phase is freedom to move purposely. Freedom to choose and freedom to concentrate. The child’s mantra is “let me do it by myself”!
The sensitive periods are critical to self-development, as each child unconsciously knows that the time to learn a specific skill is now. The child’s intensity reflects a need for that particular acquisition in order to thrive. However, once the period passes, if the skill has not been acquired a child will have to learn the skill with much more difficulty at a subsequent time.
Adults often do not realise that a child has sensitive periods, perhaps because they do not remember their own, however, an unsatisfied sensitive period will manifest itself in an unsettled child.
The Montessori philosophy values vertical grouping, as children of different ages working together presents various educational opportunities such as role modelling and teaching.
Self-esteem and confidence come naturally to children in an environment where leadership opportunities are available. The classroom is grouped vertically (three to six years of age) with various opportunities for spontaneous and exciting learning.
Teachers are not the sole source of guidance, as children gain valued insights from watching each other work. Vertical grouping is characteristic of the Montessori approach in recognition of the fact that children have different paces in physical, emotional, social, and cognitive development and are more sensibly treated as individuals rather than lumped into chronological age groups.
The Work Cycle
What makes Montessori unique? Its insistence on freedom, within a prepared environment. We don’t ‘mandate’, we ‘invite’, and we ‘entice’. To do this we have a three-hour uninterrupted morning work cycle. This is one of the fundamental methods that make a school a Montessori school.
Ineffective Montessori programmes, the school day is structured to provide learners with at least one daily uninterrupted work period appropriate to the level of the children in each class.
The purpose of long, uninterrupted blocks of work time is to allow children to select work freely, eventually becoming absorbed in work that has a particular fascination for them at this point in their development. Interruptions, no matter how valuable the alternative activity might seem to be, disturb the fragile development of the child’s focus, concentration, and intellectual exploration.