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Preschool Types & Philosophies

Montessori Approach to Early Childhood

“Children are born mindful and with wisdom we can keep this skill alive: - Montessori is wonderful in this way.” –Dalia Lama

Montessori (pronounced as MON-tuh-SORE-ee) education philosophy spanning ages from birth to adolescence was founded in 1907, by Dr. Maria Montessori, when she opened Casa dei Bambini or Children’s House in Rome. Educators across the world sparked the interest in her unique philosophy and in the space of 20 years Montessori schools opened in all the countries Europe & later in North & South America, and all the other continents of world.  The underlying principles of Dr. Montessori’s approach was that children teach themselves and evolved a design around “prepared environment” in which children could freely choose from a number of developmentally appropriate activities.

Montessori History

Dr Maria Montessori, the founder of Montessori approach, began her teaching journey in a mental institution. She was convinced that with appropriate teaching methods and techniques, she will be able to make a difference. Many children made significant progress and to her surprise when these children gave the mainstream examinations, they outperformed children from ordinary schools.

It was then she realized, the change is required in the existing method about the way children are taught. In 1907, appointed as director of a nursery of around 50 children aged 3 to 6 years in Rome, she began her research on effective teaching techniques.

She allowed the children to work independently and choose activities of their interest. She observed carefully all the materials used by children and how did these exploration objects assisted them in learning. She developed new materials and discarded those which did not appeal to children. It was then she observed that children worked with material of their choice and  they develop considerable powers of concentration and self discipline. Then she started developing the theories of Montessori Method, based on her observation of educational learning on scientific method of children experience. 

This method became very popular around the world with early childhood professionals and parents. It was basically designed in a way to support the natural growth and development of a child in a comfortable well-prepared environment.

Principles of Montessori Method

Montessori approach values the human spirit and aids in the development of the child physically, mentally, socially and emotionally. In preschools or early childhood years, Montessori students learn through various sensory motor activities to help refine their senses with exercise for discernment of shapes, size, weight, sound, pitch and odor. The specially designed materials children work and experience with develop their cognitive and sensory powers like hearing, tasting, smelling, moving, touching. A child uses these learning materials and organizes his thinking through work from concrete to abstract. He starts building up his knowledge to real world instances. This organization of information, facts and figures prepares him/her for the coming years where thought and emotions evolve into understanding more abstract concepts.

There are four basic principles that represent how Montessori educators implement this method:

1.      Respect for the child: Many a times, we try to force children to follow what we are saying disregard of the fact what they need. Children imitate our behavior and when we behave in a way of controlling them, we cannot expect them to be submissive and well-behaved. Thus, it’s better to respect their needs and treat them with kindness. Help them do things and learn for themselves. When children are given choices, they not only develop skills and abilities to learn new things but also develop positive self-esteem.

2.      Absorbent mind: The concept stresses on the fact that children are born learners. Simply by living, children learn from their environment. So what they learn depends largely on their teachers, environment and experiences.

3.      Sensitive periods: As per Dr. Maria Montessori, every child experiences a sensitive period when he/she are more susceptible to certain behavior and can learn specific skills more easily example, a sensitive period of writing, or reading or acquiring a particular skill. Though the sequence and timing of this sensitive period may vary from each child, it’s the responsibility of the teacher to observe and detect times of sensitivity and provide that environment for maximum benefit.

4.      Prepared environment: The environment is ideally suited to a child’s stage of development that allows him/her to respond to his ‘sensitivities’ and gives them the freedom to act as per their natural behavioral tendencies.

Right Age to Start Montessori School

Ideal age to start Montessori school is between 2 ½ to 3 ½ years. The child begins a new stage of development when entering or has just entered the age of three years and this is a natural time to separate from his primary caregiver. The 3 years of preschool sets the stage for kindergarten year, this foundation culminates in academic explosion later.

Montessori Structure

The order structure method followed by Dr. Montessori consists in recognising the place for each object in relation to its environment and remembering where each object should be. Children thrive in such environment; feel safe and secure within its environment, they learn how things should be.  Montessori classrooms are thus designed to be as accessible as possible for children so that they can be given maximum freedom to move and develop. Apart from these, following concepts play a key role in a Montessori structure:

Ø      Children have a self directed learning; teacher facilitates better ways of learning, guides and provides the material a child is interested in.

Ø      A teacher observes and knows the sensitive period of a child. Capitalizing on these heightened periods of attention by a child will help in having a better control of the environment.

Ø      There are no grades or any forms of punishment or rewards. Though teacher keeps a track and observes even the minutest details about a child and keeps a record of it but a student is graded purely on the basis of his behavior, discipline, happiness, maturity, team work, level of work etc.

Ø      The student teacher ratio is not more than 1:30.

Ø      The teacher does not make assignments or dictate what to study or read, nor does she set a limit as to how far a child follows an interest.

Montessori Materials

Montessori endorses good quality natural material for activities used in day to day life and also some meticulously designed wooden toys, puzzles, pairing objects, classification cards, blocks, inset boards, jigsaw puzzles etc. All of them related to nature and environment, involvement in  a lot of outdoor activities and bringing the experiences in the class by observing and investigation. This could be by planting plants of fruit or flower or vegetable observing them and looking after them.

The first materials used in this approach are ‘practical life activities’, activities which are a part of everyday life and a child is familiar with them from his home like pouring, scrubbing, buttoning, zipping, polishing etc. These activities help in developing the concentration and coordination required to perform such as strengthens eye-hand coordination.

Next are sensory materials which develop a child’s senses rather than the intellect like size, color, taste, smoothness, roughness, weight, sound etc. As the child learns and starts understanding the materials are built upon.

All the materials in this environment are designed in such a way that a child has maximum independence to perform the task and learn from it. The materials themselves invite activity from a child’s end like beads, blocks, rods, puzzle maps etc. The materials are kept on open shelves and easily accessible to children.

Tips for Parents

This approach helps a child rely on his judgment instead of an external force judging them. By doing so, a child not only develops a ‘friendly feeling’ towards mistakes but also sets a path of self-improvement and confidence to take risks. Montessori Method allows children to develop freely, with the belief that they are inherently good and have precise inner guides to connect with everything, which moulds children to be naturally caring and the world around them. Children are treated with respect and are heard. It helps shape a world that is a better place for everyone.