Montessori. Maybe you’ve heard of it and know a few things about it, or maybe you are a total fanatic like me! Where ever you are on your Montessori journey I want to share 4 things that everyone should know about Montessori.
How I found Montessori
Firstly, I want to share how I found Montessori and how that has impacted my life. In high school, I had to compare something within society for a class. I had an interest in education so I decided I would compare educational models. I observed in a traditional school and in a Montessori school. What I observed in that classroom was nothing short of incredible. Leaving that day of observation I knew I was going to be a Montessori teacher, and a Montessori teacher I became!
My Montessori Background
In light of my observation and love of education, I began my Elementary Montessori training at 19 years old. I was the youngest in my cohort but was driven to immerse myself in this educational philosophy. Little did I know that my experience of Montessori training would transform me into an adult prepared to guide young children in a unique way through this beautiful model of education. More than an educational model I find it a method that I am able to apply to all areas of my life.
While in training I learned about child development through the work of Dr. Montessori. I spent countless hours writing and presenting Montessori lessons. Through this work, I grew as an individual and learned how to see myself in relationship to the children around me. There are many Montessori materials and these are important when you look at the whole picture of Dr. Montessori’s work; however, Montessori is more than pretty materials on a shelf and children doing things they choose.
If I had to sum Montessori up in two sentences it would be this:
Montessori is understanding the developmental needs of children, then preparing an environment for them which allows for freedom, exploration, and an ability to meet their needs. As the adult, I am prepared to observe, remove obstacles and hold limits for the children in my care.
4 Things You Need to Know About Montessori
I think there can be a lot of misconceptions about Montessori. For example, one misconception can be that children in Montessori schools or Montessori homes can “do whatever they want”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As Montessorians, we are working to foster an environment that supports independence and exploration because we know that is beneficial for our children. For that to happen there are necessary preparations both for the adult and the environment. We need both of these preparation for Montessori to work.
I love sharing Montessori with others! So here are 4 things everyone should know about Montessori. Since everyone should know these things, would you consider sharing this article with a friend? Thanks. Okay, back to work now.
#1: Who is Dr. Maria Montessori?
I’ll keep it short, but there is so much more to Maria Montessori. For a full biography of Maria Montessori, see this article.
Dr. Maria Montessori was born in 1870 in Italy and died in 1952. During her 82 years on Earth, she created a method and approach to education that continues to be well-known today. She went to school for physics, mathematics, and natural sciences. Then, she entered medical school to become a doctor, against her father’s wishes and to the despise of her fellow male classmates. She was the only female in her class and in July of 1896, she became one of the first female doctors in Italy.
She began her work with children who had learning challenges. Her work spread and she dedicated her life to working with children and sharing her findings with others in the form of training them as teachers. Overall, she cultivated “education as an aid to life”.
The following things I believe you need to know about Montessori were the result of her observations and years of work with children.
#2: Child Development Through the Four Planes of Development
Dr. Montessori discovered that development isn’t linear and that it happens more broadly in planes of development. These planes are approximately 6-year spans of growth.
- 1st plane: 0-6 years old
- 2nd Plane: 6-12 years old
- 3rd plane: 12-18 years old
- 4th plane: 18-24 years old
Within each plane, if the conditions are favorable, the child will grow. A favorable environment has loving and caring adults as well as a properly prepared environment. At each new plane, there is a rebirth; both psychological changes and physical changes that occur during these transitions. Maybe you have noticed this in your children as they transition from these planes. Each plane has two sub-phases; these sub-phases are very prevalent in the 1st and 3rd planes. The 1st sub-phase is construction or building and the 2nd sub-phase is consolidation of what was constructed.
Each plane has a parallel plane. The 1st and 3rd planes are planes of turbulent growth. Children and young adults in the 1st and 3rd plane are more susceptible to illness and there is less room for intellectual growth because the body is growing so much. The 2nd and 4th planes are the other parallel planes. This is when crystallization occurs, the child and young adult typically have good health and there is lots of room for intellectual growth.
The first plane of development: 0-6 years old
Characteristics of the 1st plane:
- Tremendous physical growth
- Guided by the absorbent mind
- The absorbent mind is the child’s’ ability to takes in everything, which lays the foundation for the intelligence. Dr. Montessori describes the absorbent mind like a camera, it is non discriminatory.
- Two sub phases: *0-3: unconscious mind and *3-6: conscious mind
- Great need for order
The Second Plane of Development: 6-12 Years old
Characteristics of the 2nd plane:
- Child uses their reasoning mind – very curious in the why and how behind things
- Great imagination
- Capacity for big work
- Great intellectual capacity
- Concerned with fairness and justice
- Time of rudeness for a child which is why it is important to give them good models to emulate.
- Their sense of order also seems to go away as they work to order their mind rather than the physical environment around them.
The Third Plane of Development: 12-18 Years Old
The young adult of the third plane of development will:
- Examine herself
- Become a socially conscious human being
- Hold friends and peers as significance and importance
- Be an abstract thinker
- Be highly creative
- Need to be treated as young adults and not like children
- Need a higher degree of responsibility
There are 2 sub-phases in the 3rd plane of development. The 1st sub-phase is puberty. The 2nd sub-phase is adolescence
The Fourth Plane of Development: 18-24 Years old
Dr. Montessori left less information on the 4th plane of development. What was envisioned was a college-like system for adult maturing. The human from ages 18-24 is a full member of society and has moral responsibilities. While their skeletal growth is complete their brain is still developing and will continue past age 24.
#3: What is a Prepared Environment
Dr. Montessori found that the characteristics of the child would come out repeatedly if they were in the right environment. The environment needs to have freedom, freedom to work, to self-construct. The ideal prepared environment must meet all the developmental needs of the child.
The prepared environment supports the child’s psychological health. The adult, the child, and the environment work together. The child has freedoms within the limits of the space and these freedom are supported by the adult.
Our prepared environments such as our homes or classrooms, will be prepared with both the size and developmental needs of the child in mind. We can have furniture that is appropriate to the size of the child and offer materials that help support the needs of that child.
#4: Freedom and Responsibility
As I have said, I think Montessori can get the reputation of children being able to “do whatever they want.” As a trained Montessorian who understands the principals of Montessori, I want to tell you that this is not the case. Rather it as a framework and an environment that allows for independence and choice. However, this is only possible when you have a prepared environment in which the child is actually free to explore and choose as well as when you have limits and hold them. We want all of our children to have the freedom to make choices for themselves. However, when a child has the freedom to choose something, we need to make sure the child has the equal level of responsibility for that choice.
An Example of Freedom and Responsibility
For example, we may offer our children the freedom to choose what shirt they want to wear for the day. For a young child who has less responsibility, I may offer 2 choices and ask him “Would you like this one or this one?” Now I have given him total freedom to choose, but within the limits I have set as the adult. I did not open the whole closet and ask the child, “What do you want to wear today?” For a child who doesn’t have a certain level of responsibility, that question is imprudent of me as the adult. Indeed this is why the preparation of the adult is an important aspect of Montessori, more on that another time!
How to Support both Freedom AND Responsibility
Part of the work as a prepared adult is to learn how to hold the balance between offering freedom and expecting responsibility. We can only offer children true freedom when we there is a certain level of responsibility. Conversely, when responsibility is not present in a child and we give the child freedom, we have just done a disservice to our children. As adults, we need to look on the inside and ask ourselves if the freedom our children have is being used responsibly. This is probably the hardest thing to do as a Montessori adult, it requires love and boundaries. We can be both firm and kind.