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What is Montessori Method of Education - Full guide

We discuss the Montessori education system its history and philosophy, core components, props and cons, method of implementation, and some case studies of implemented Montessori education system

The essence of learning lies in the learning method, especially when it’s about children. Spontaneously, a child would want to take something in while the thing actually interests it. In today’s time, the method of Montessori Education is leading the globe towards such a child-centered practical approach to teaching and learning.
The Montessori Method of learning is not a novel phenomenon. It’s just gaining more and more popularity each advancing year. It’s the method’s practical and constructive approaches that people are searching and exploring it more and more throughout the world.

What Is the Montessori Method of Education?

The child looks for his independence first, not because he does not desire to be dependent on the adult. But because he has in himself some fire, some urge, to do certain things and not other things.” – Maria Montessori

Montessori Method of Education is a learning method for children of varied and all age groups, which considers the free and independent natural spirit of the children as the foremost requirement. Emphasizing children’s all-round development, this method is based on completely student-centered teaching principles. From a very tender age, children here are taught to be self-reliant and are practically prepared to confront the life ahead, heading towards making true human beings out of themselves.
In this method of learning, the students are headed towards a process of natural development. They obtain practical learning to make themselves capable of understanding the self and the surrounding. Age-based learning is provided to develop social interaction.
Turning from mechanical learning, this education system gives importance to a child’s all-round development including intellectual, perceptional, spiritual, moral, disciplinary, sensory, linguistic, and numerical growth. This Educational method seeks a child to be creative growing the faculty of creative imagination. As well as its physical growth, a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development is also equally significant according to Montessori education.
The teacher has to obtain proper training to “follow the child”, – as it is said. Dr. Montessori founded the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) in 1929 to ensure the quality and integrity of what was being handed down in her training courses throughout different places of the world.

The Beginnings: Maria Montessori

The term Montessori Education is after the Italian physician, educator and anthropologist Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952). The trajectory of Montessori Education started on January 6, 1907; when Dr. Montessori initiated her Casa dei Bambini – Italian for Children’s House. This child-care center was opened in San Lorenzo, a poor, inner-city district of Rome, where she had to care for the most disadvantaged children of working parents from low-income families.
Dr. Montessori previously had the chance of observing mentally disabled children as a part of her research work at the psychiatric clinic of the University of Rome. She was greatly influenced by the principles of Itard and Seguin – two French physicians and educators. Later in 1900, she was made the co-director of the Orthophrenic School opened by the National League, where she served two years. During those years, Montessori developed her fundamentals regarding the philosophy and teaching equipment that she used with retarded children, and that brought her positive results.
But she wanted to go ahead by applying her philosophy of education and teaching materials with mainstream (normal) children. And the Casa dei Bambini was the beginning of it. And there was transition. There she intensely observed the behavior of the children, made the classroom environment and the materials finer, more refined, and more child-friendly.

 Method and Philosophy of Montessori Education:

The visionary attempted to spread her scientific pedagogy globally by continuously traveling, lecturing in different parts of the globe, and writing many articles and books. Possibly it will not be an exaggeration if I say that her whole life was the essence of her educational principles that focused only on the requirement of children, not on the theory itself.
In accordance with the teaching method of Montessori, each child is considered a unique individual free of any kind of obligation, who, by the use of his natural curiosities, will lead himself to learn things independently with the aid of a guide (the teacher). Rather than focusing on rewards, it focuses on the inner motivation of a child to learn things.
When explaining the philosophy of her pedagogy, Dr. Montessori says in her book The Montessori Method about a child learning to spell, at the same time comparing mechanical learning with natural learning, – “We must, instead, make of them worshippers and interpreters of the spirit of nature. They must be like him who, having learned to spell, finds himself, one day, able to read behind the written symbols the thought of Shakespeare, or Goethe, or Dante. As may be seen, the difference is great, and the road long.
And for that, the method advocates natural self-learning on the part of the students, where the teacher guides and challenges them.
In the “Conclusion” part of the same book, Montessori says, “The children work by themselves, and, in doing so, make a conquest of active discipline, and independence in all the acts of daily life, just as through daily conquests they progress in intellectual development. …children are able with our methods to arrive at a splendid physical development, and, in addition to this, there unfolds within them, in all its perfection, the soul, which distinguishes the human being.” 
Right from the birth of a child to the adolescence (the adolescence period was not included in Montessori schools till the death of Maria Montessori; - but now many Montessori schools have enrolled adolescents too within the Montessori framework) the Montessori education method guides it through its childhood days so that the child can develop itself in all aspects of human life.
The child is considered as a respected unique individual who is going to further influence the society. To grow itself into that “soul, which distinguishes the human being”, the child would be needing to develop its physical, perceptional, intellectual, social, interactional, cognitive, and moral aspects. Except for those, in the Montessori education system, children are taught basic linguistic and arithmetic skills. And for both of these developmental and skill-oriented purposes, Montessori developed specially designed learning tools that would lead the child towards a practical as well as a spontaneous approach to learning.
 To ensure all-round development of the children, Montessori included lessons like gymnastics; made a healthy diet plan for them; and left them to their own choice while working. I’ve kept the word ‘working’ in italics to demonstrate its significance; – as in a Montessori classroom, children do not read or study, and neither they play; they just work. And it’s through that work that they have their lessons.
The environment of a Montessori classroom is quite child-friendly with easily movable furniture, learning materials, and enough space for the children to work individually, in pairs or groups. Rather than mechanical learning, the education system allows children to learn from their own understanding of the environment, where the teacher works as an aid.
For instance, in the aforementioned book, Dr. Montessori highlights a little boy who at first colored a tree trunk with red, and how, by exploring into the garden with his fellow students, he gradually develops his perception of color and finally becomes able to color different parts of the tree with different and appropriate colors.
Inside a Montessori classroom, the whole scene is totally distinguished from a traditional classroom. You won’t see any central pair of table and chair meant for the teacher. This shows that the teacher is one of the students who will guide them and work together with them. This is the pivotal point to show the student-centeredness approach of this educational principle.
Again, the classroom is stuffed with learning materials that are kept inside cabinets or shelves from where the children can draw whatever they want. They are left to choose what they want to do, and they choose whatever interests them. And this is the key point behind fruitful learning; – as their tasks involve their instinct, curiosity, and interest.
To develop leadership quality among the children, Montessori education allows multi-age classrooms. Each class has a three-year age span. This allows the children to work in a group with children of different ages, making the learning process easy, self-directed, observational, collaborative, and experiential.
Another crucial point regarding this education system is that Maria Montessori didn’t believe in the traditional evaluation system of conducting examinations that leads to certification. Rather, she believed in independent self-learning that can spontaneously lead a child from one stage to the next.

Core Components of Montessori Education:

Montessori education is already regarded as an exceptional education method. Certain core components make it distinguished from other traditional or formal forms of education. The American Montessori Society considers five aspects of Montessori education as core components of it, – trained Montessori teachers, the multi-age classroom, using Montessori materials, child-directed work, and uninterrupted work periods. Let’s have a more distinct overview regarding the overall core components and characteristics of Montessori education –  

1. Psychological Ground:

It is a teaching method that is based upon the psychological aspects of childhood years. Naturally, children don’t like to sit for hours listening to their teacher. They want to move about and do things practically. Maria Montessori believed that a child can have optimal learning and can make use of its optimum potential only when he is allowed to learn spontaneously in his preferred way.
Dr. Montessori referred to the classroom as a prepared environment. A Montessori classroom is also organized upon psychological grounds. Each and every material kept within the classroom is specially designed child-sized material. They are kept in a disciplined way in order of difficulty, – so that the child’s constructed norms are not hindered. And they are kept within the convenient reach of the children.

2. Self-directed Learning:

In this method, children are provided a learning community consisting of their fellow students of varied age groups. The children are instructed and encouraged to approach self-directed learning at their own pace by interaction within this community and its surrounding environment. They are left to their own choice in a convenient surrounding within set limitations. And thereby, they can lead themselves independently towards their goal. Spoon-feeding or parrot learning is not encouraged. Instead, experiential learning is facilitated.

3. Trained Montessori teacher:

Although it is an inevitable component of the Montessori education system, I have kept it in third. There is a reason behind it. Montessori education is completely a student-centered teaching approach, not teacher-centered. A teacher here does not teach the children directly, although she has to be with them continuously for the whole day long. I already mentioned that the teacher is one of the students, who guides and instructs the children. The teacher shows the path, through which the children draw themselves.  
But the role of the teacher here brings utmost importance. She is a trained personality who observes each and every child’s individual traits and needs, according to which she leads each one towards their natural development in every facet of life. She is the moulder of the tender blooming hearts. 
Maria Montessori says about the teacher, “she may remain for a whole day among children in the most varying stages of development, just as the mother remains in the house with children of all ages, without becoming tired.” 

4. Montessori Materials:

As mentioned previously, Dr. Montessori developed specially designed materials so that the children can have a proper understanding of everything surrounding them. As children do not immediately develop an understanding of abstractions, they need concrete objects to comprehend abstract ideas.
Montessori developed different equipment and tools for different experiences. There are different materials for children to develop every kind of sensory perception including visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, and tactile. Sometimes, the senses themselves are used as learning tools. Different materials are there to teach them linguistic, numerical, geographical, or other skills.
Certain noteworthy materials used are charts, painting materials including colors, blocks, sandpaper letters, flashcards, child-sized furniture, maps, puzzles, specially designed toys, geometrical shapes, colored bead stairs, work folders, etc. 

5. Hands-on Learning:

The hand is the instrument of intelligence. The child needs to manipulate objects and to gain experience by touching and handling. ” – Maria Montessori.
Montessori education principles do not make a child sit together for hours listening to the teacher lecturing or reading, or trying to memorize a lesson or a poem. Children are not passive learners in this method. Rather, they actively participate throughout the whole process of learning. They learn practically using their hands within an environment governed by limited freedom. They are not bound only to the classroom.  
For knowing the surrounding natural environment, they have routine outdoor activities. Moreover, they obtain basic life skills including dressing, cooking, cleaning, gardening, etc. within a disciplined dimension under the guidance and instruction of their teacher. Rather than theory, age-based practical activities are given utmost importance in this educational philosophy.

6. Multi-age Organized Classroom:

A classroom containing children having a three-year age span is particularly distinguished from a traditional classroom. It makes them a little community within their own limits and comfort. As for the older students, they develop leadership qualities as a result of this system. With the younger ones, it develops an observant mindset, thereby inducing intellectual development.
In both the older and younger students, this system develops social interaction skills and social-behavioral norms along with experiential education learned with coordination. These classrooms are organized according to the requirements of the children so that they can have uninterrupted learning in their field of interest.

7. Uninterrupted Work Period:

Every child is a unique individual. Hence, one child’s working pace will differ from another one. Montessori education respects it. Therefore, it encourages a time-frame called an uninterrupted working period, that allows the children to maintain their complete focus until they finish one task without any hindrance, and then start a new one. As children will do something as long as it interests them. 

Technology-use in Montessori Classrooms:

This question must be intriguing you, – that being so distinguished from the mainstream education, does Montessori Method encourage the use of technology?
The answer is yes, but not like the mainstream educational institutes. Still, it’s a fact that with mainstream education also, the topic of screen time for kids has become a matter of much research.
Well, with the advancing time, things get changed. This age is digital. From a very tender age, children get acquainted with technological devices like smartphones, computers, iPad, etc. Now the education sector is also getting more and more involved in technology, as it makes the pace of learning faster and more convenient.
But the Montessori way of thinking is different. When Maria Montessori died, the world was far away from the internet and technology. She emphasized hands-on learning for the cognitive and intellectual development of the children. The essence of her principles is that whatever activity the children perform, it must add meaning and value to their life. Taking this principle at the forefront, now many Montessori educators are considering the use of technology in Montessori classrooms.
As the era demands it, educators cannot altogether avoid the use of technology. But, they always make sure that whenever there is use of technology for learning purposes, it should be meaningful to the children. They often try to keep the use of technological devices minimal, and avoid certain devices like digital flashcards, while manual flashcards can also do the job.
 It’s a reality that computer and computer skills are considered mandatory practical skills that are essential for life as well as for job purposes. Hence, the senior students are taught practical things like Google Suite, but with minimal use of technological devices if possible alternative ways are available.
In this respect, another considerable factor is the current global situation with the prevailing Covid-19 protocols. It has further advanced digitalization even in the education sector. And Montessori education, too, is not an exception. Still, educators always prefer hands-on learning for children rather than technological learning. Whenever technology is involved, it is only with the purpose to add value and meaning to the present and future life of a child. Technology learning is considered here as a form of practical learning.

Pros and Cons of Montessori Education:

Are you exploring web searching which educational method is best suited for your child? 
Are you searching for an answer to the question of whether Montessori education is the best method of learning for your child?
Well, it’s a fact that nothing can be 100% perfect except for nature. Anyway, researches have been done on the topic. But there is no such research that can prove that the Montessori Method is the best method of learning.
Still, before you enroll your child in a Montessori institute, it is important to have some knowledge about the pros and cons underneath the system.

Positive Aspects of Montessori Education:

If you have gone through the whole article, you must already have formed an idea about the benefits of Montessori learning principles. Here is a detailed discussion of it – 
  1. Child-led education system: As you already know, Montessori is a child-led education system that allows them limited freedom. There is no pressure upon the child related to learning a lesson. You would see your child doing homework rarely. It advocates a process of spontaneous learning on the part of the child, directed by his or her own interest. Although different subjects are introduced to the children, it is not mandatory to learn a subject that a child is not interested in. It fosters a natural flow of learning leading a child to his or her best potential.
  2. Collaborative learning and teacher as a guide: Montessori Method does not allow a focal point for the teacher. The teacher here is a guide who moves throughout the whole classroom helping the children perform their chosen task. It breaks the traditional myth of a teacher being someone different and superior. That can encourage collaborative and seamless learning.
  3. Prepares the children for lifelong self-reliance in all aspects of life: Montessori Method is not just an educational method; – it’s a way of living. It prepares the children for lifelong self-reliance in all aspects of life and society. They learn here every kind of practical knowledge and skills that can promise a secure future. They become both individually and socially aware and active within their small society constructed with the teacher and the children of different age groups.
  4. Clean, systematic, and well-organized classrooms: You will see kind of stability in a Montessori classroom in its clean, systematic, and ordered organization. It makes the children form strict disciplinary norms for their lifetime, along with allowing them to follow their choices without any interruption. 
  5. Continuous development of cognitive aspects: Children are in a continuous process of developing their cognitive aspects. In such a state, practical knowledge and experience add more value to a child’s learning system rather than theoretical knowledge. Experiential education collaborated with hands-on learning is a strong positive aspect of the Montessori education system.
  6. Education by understanding child psychology: When we attempt to educate a child, understanding his or her psychological faculties is very important. A child won’t listen to you if you continuously direct it to do something or not to do something. They will continuously exhaust you with questions about why and what. They want to move around collecting practical experiences regarding their curious fields. Montessori Education “follow the child” in its actual meaning. It respects this child-psychology. This psychological ground actually fosters a better and joyful learning experience in the child. It encourages the child’s love for learning.
  7.  Care for children with special needs: Another remarkable strong point of Montessori Education is that it fosters care for children with special needs. A century ago, Maria Montessori applied her educational principles to some mentally handicapped children; and the result was positive. She could even transform the lives of Rome’s slum-based children from her first casa with her teaching method. Now also, Montessori institutes care for such children. 

Drawbacks of Montessori Education:

When we look at it as a whole, the Montessori method of education is a practical and universal phenomenon that truly cares about children. But it too is not free from hindrances. Let’s go through it –
  1. Montessori Education is expensive: First and foremost, Montessori Education is expensive. The high-quality teaching aids do not allow the system to keep its prices low. It’s expensive for both students and trained teachers, as the institutions providing complete and extensive Montessori education are private. Because of its cost, it’s not accessible for the economically weak sector of society. Sometimes students are partially benefitted by stands taken by certain business tycoons, – just as Jeff Bezos pledged $1 billion to fund low-income Montessori preschools in 2018.  But teachers are not benefitted from such steps. They have to cost a considerable amount of money for getting trained to “follow the child”.
  2. Montessori schools are not trademarked institutes: Some Montessori schools do not follow complete Montessori guidelines although they claim as following. They just try to add certain Montessori traits to their classrooms. Hence, whenever you consider enrolling your children in a Montessori preschool or kindergarten, always make some research about the institute beforehand, so that your children get actual quality education.
  3. Freedom of learning sometimes causes problems: Freedom of learning (although limited) without any strictness can sometimes cause problems. All children cannot handle it and make it on their own without proper instructions. In this case, some children can end up learning only the subjects of their interest and leaving the others that are equally important in their overall growth.
  4. Difficult to adjust to the outside environment of the classroom: The set environment of a Montessori classroom has a great impact on the psychology of a child. Although it is having benefits for a child, still it makes the child accustomed to this strict organization, sometimes making it incapable of reacting to altered environments that the child will always face outside the classroom.
  5. Difficult to adjust to other classroom environments: Being continuously for three years in the same classroom environment and with the same teacher will shape a child’s psychology in a particular way, which may later make it difficult for the child to get accustomed to other social or classroom environments with ease.
  6. Looseness of the curriculum: Another issue comes regarding the looseness of the curriculum. In fact, there is not any strict curriculum for Montessori students. Some parents think that it might affect their children in learning practical academic subjects.

How to Implement Montessori Education:

Being an educational method based upon practical psychological norms, Montessori education is worth approaching for your child. Some public schools also follow certain guidelines of Montessori education. But you won’t find abundant purely Montessori-based preschools for your children. There are approximately 20,000 Montessori schools globally. But if you wish, you can apply these philosophical norms at your home too for the use of your children. For this, just follow these simplified tips –
  • Always respect your children. They need it the most, although they don’t know how to say it.
  • Instead of strict restrictions, allow them some amount of freedom with a set limitation to follow their interests.
  • Don’t directly instruct them, but guide them and be with them throughout their activities. They want it.
  • Let them work (not just play) with meaningful objects that can add value to their lives.
  • Don’t try to sound superior to them; behave as if you are one of them who want to help them.
  • Let them pursue their interests actively.
  • Make the surrounding environment clean, disciplined, and organized.
  • Make sure that their food habits, their activities, and their surrounding environment lead them towards an all-around development. 

Case Studies of Implementation of Montessori Education:

Although Montessori education is not found in abundance, still a considerable number of people are being fascinated by this philosophy from the very beginning of it. Maria Montessori traveled throughout Europe, India, and the United States spreading her pedagogy and philosophy within it. She was associated with great personalities like Anna Freud, Erik Erikson, Mahatma Gandhi, Alexander Graham Bell, and Jean Piaget.
Currently, around 110 countries worldwide include Montessori Method in their education system. Some instances of case studies will make it clearer –
A research published in the International Journal of Education titled “Implementing Autonomy Support: Insights from a Montessori Classroom” presents a case study exploring “teachers’ strategies for autonomy support, and student intrinsic motivation in an upper-elementary Montessori classroom in the state of Indiana, USA.” This research offers five guidelines regarding the implementation of classroom autonomy support; that includes the use of cognitive autonomy support, fostering student-to-student cooperation with organizational autonomy support, establishing teacher-to-student cooperation by using organizational autonomy support, and suppressing criticism and providing rationales when setting limits for children.
“Peace Education: A Case Study of a Montessori School in Lebanon”, published in Millennium Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, is another case study research I want to cite. Civil war-ridden Lebanon is still not free from the clutches of misfortunes caused by the war. This research is a case study regarding “the Peace Education Program at the first Montessori School in Lebanon and the teachers’ level of awareness of implementing it through their teaching practices.” 
The study is based upon the four pillars of Montessori’s Peace Education Philosophy: self-awareness, community awareness, cultural awareness, and environmental awareness. The study ends with a positive note stating the compatibility of this Peace Education Program based on Montessori principles to the Lebanese national curriculum.
Now, to conclude, the method of child education is a very sensitive issue. Since the surrounding environment takes a great role to mould a child’s whole spirit. Children are the fastest learners. Whatever they experience in their surrounding environment, they absorb it quickly. Hence it’s really important that they are provided a healthy environment so that their environment feeds them positive experiences. These experiences work as the basic factor to shape their psychology, which will direct their whole life.
Montessori education provides a child with a healthy environment by creating a convenient community around them. Such is the strength of her philosophy that Dr. Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize continuously for three times – in 1949, 1950, and 1951. This proves that this child-supportive education system is worth obtaining for your child. 

References:
  1. https://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/education/blog/pros_cons_montessori_education/
  2. https://milljournals.org/hssjournal/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2020/09/Peace-Education-.pdf


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