What is Montessori?
Montessori - created by the Italian teacher Maria Montessori - is a way of teaching that puts the child first. That treats every child as the unique and dynamic learner that they are.
By letting your child lead the way, and by respecting their independence and creativity, Montessori allows children to develop at their own pace and in their own way. The result is happier, more confident, and more passionate learners.
At the centre of this is a strong structure for genuine child-led learning: once introduced to a piece of work, whether it be polishing a mirror or constructing a dodecahedron, a child is free to approach that work when and how often they like.
Starting with the Practical Life - where children learn to master their fine motor skills and the everyday objects they come across in normal life - a child's education at Montessori progresses through Sensorial Learning to abstract thinking and the beginnings of maths and language.
The teacher's role is to act as a guide, not an instructor. They offer structure and encouragement, and form a link between the child and the prepared environment to introduce – in precise, clear and enticing ways – the child to each piece of equipment when he or she is ready.
Throughout this the calm, focussed atmosphere of the Montessori classroom, and the freedom given to each child to find their own way, allows the children to learn what they are capable of, and to begin the wonderful journey of becoming who they will be.
“Education of even a very small child…does not aim at preparing him for school, but for life.”
Colour Tablets - Visual Exploration
Colour forms an important part of the Montessori syllabus. The Colour Grading board teaches children to sequence and differentiate colours.
Child sized and Child led
The Montessori classroom is constructed with small children in mind, making it more accessible to them on every level. All the tables and chairs are child sizes, both for comfort and to help them understand that this is their space, not the grownup's. All the learning resources are in easy reach so the children have complete independence and freedom in the classroom to access the 'work' they would like to do, without being reliant on an adult.
Maths educational tools
The Binomial Cube is a mathematical puzzle in three dimensions (for the mathematicians amongst you it actually represents the expression (a+b)^3).
The challenge is to assemble the different blocks into a single cube, using the colours as guides.
The youngest children start their Montessori education with practical life skills. Children will be taught and encouraged to wash dishes, polish surfaces, cut fruit for the snack table and many other practical life tasks. Children love to learn through action, and feel empowered by taking responsibility for a job that is genuinely helpful. 'The Practical Life' nurtures this and helps the children to master both themselves and their environment.
Dry and Wet Pouring
Dry pouring with lentils, beans or other grains helps prepare the children for wet pouring. Eventually, they gain independence at the snack table and are able to pour their own drinks.
The Sensorial Activities were designed by Maria Montessori to cover every quality that can be perceived by a child's senses: size, shape, composition, texture, loudness, softness, weight, temperature, and more are introduced to the children in carefully designed activities that teach them to compare, contrast and distinguish the subtle details of the world around them.
Maths in the Montessori classroom is designed to support children’s natural interest in numbers, series, and comparison, and to provide a strong foundation in numeracy through the use of specially designed materials. By experimenting with concrete puzzles, the youngest children learn about dimension, size, number, shape and sequence. Activities such as the Pink Tower involve building from progressively smaller blocks, whilst the Hundred Board requires the children to conquer our 'base ten' number system.
The Spindle Box
The spindle boxes develop early counting skills and develop the association between quantity and the number symbols 0-9. Importantly, they teach the concept of zero.
Montessori developed the sandpaper numbers to help children develop the muscular impression of the number as well as to introduce the shape and sound of each number. They are multi sensory which is important for children still in a tactical stage of development.
The Small Red Rods
The Small Red Rods consist of a series of ten graduated rods all with the same cross-section with lengths ranging from 2.5cm to 25cm. They are stored in a configured tray, to which the are also carefully returned!
An enjoyable counting activity that reinforces the sequence of numbers from 1 to 100. The Hundred Board is used by placing the wooden chips in sequence on the board. The material consists of 100 printed wooden chips
and a wooden board with 100 squares printed on it.
The Knobbed Cylinders
Challenging 'toys' such as the knobbed cylinders carefully introduce the visual discrimination of size. By refining the child's perception of dimension they lay the groundwork for mathematics activities such as comparison, grading, and an understanding of series. These blocks provide a chance for a child to understand their own errors and to mastering them.
Number rods provide a key visual aid to help children learn to count reliably up to 10, to use language such as 'more' or 'less' to compare two numbers, and to find one more or one less than a number from 1 to 10.
Maria Montessori was a firm believer in what she called 'indirect preparation’ — in finding clever ways to teach children without them even realising that they are being taught. Many of the practical life and sensorial exercises are designed with this in mind, and introduce elements of language in subtle ways so as to prepare them for later learning reading and writing. For example by using metal insets to draw with, a child develops the fine motor skills they will subsequently need to write those letters in words.
When they are ready to embrace language more formally, we begin with the phonetic sounds of the letters, then move on to word building and recognition, and finally book reading. Maria discovered that children embrace writing as part of the their natural desire to express new knowledge and that it nearly always precedes reading — they love the excitement of finding that they can put their thoughts down on paper. At Montessori we give children the freedom to explore this urge to the full.
The Moveable Alphabet
The moveable alphabet is a tool used in a Montessori learning environment to teach reading, spelling, and writing. It is a wooden box containing 26 wooden letters.
The children use the board to experiment with their understanding of phonics, to decode regular and irregular words, and to practice reading them aloud accurately.
Outdoor learning is fundamental to the Montessori philosophy, from the Practical Life right through to the later stages.
Children develop vital gross motor skills as they climb, jump and swing, and also vital social skills as they take turns on equipment and play hide and seek (it has even been suggested that Maria Montessori invented the idea of the sandpit).
Regular walks - one of the lovely advantages of our countryside setting - are a key feature of the learning experience. We ensure that we go outside every day in the morning and afternoon, encouraging the children to be aware of the importance of fresh air and exercise.
“The greatest sign of success as a teacher is to be able to say, 'the children are now working as if I didn’t exist.'”
Who was Maria Montessori?
Born in Italy in 1870, Maria Montessori is one of the most important early years educators of the 20th century. Her innovations have had a profound influence on the education of young children throughout the world.
In 1896 Maria was the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School, and it was during her work as a doctor that she became interested in children's education.
Expanding on ideas that she had first nurtured in the context of psychiatric patients, Maria began to develop a system for teaching all children and pioneered a number of practices that became hallmarks of her educational philosophy and method.
She replaced heavy furniture with child-sized tables and chairs light enough for the children to move, and placed child-sized materials on low, accessible shelves. She expanded the range of practical activities such as sweeping and personal care to include a wide variety of exercises for care of the environment and the self, including flower arranging, hand washing, gymnastics, care of pets, and cooking.
She also included large open air sections in the classroom encouraging children to come and go as they please in the room’s different areas and lessons.
Her work was widely published internationally, and spread rapidly. By the end of 1911, Montessori education had been officially adopted in public schools in Italy and Switzerland, and was planned for the United Kingdom.
By 1912, Montessori schools had opened in Paris and many other Western European cities, and were planned for Argentina, Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Switzerland, Syria, the United States, and New Zealand. Public programs in London, Johannesburg, Rome, and Stockholm had adopted the method in their school systems.
Maria continued to travel the world, establishing schools, lecturing about her methods and discoveries, right up to her death in 1952.
Maria Montessori was a true pioneer of child-centred education. She saw that children learn best by doing, and that happy self-motivated learners form positive images of themselves as confident and successful. Her legacy continues to resonate today.