Montessori schools and homes have unique values and characteristics that set them apart from more traditional classrooms and homes. You may see children making independent choices, small group presentations, young children carrying glass objects, and multi-age groupings. Montessori is an educational philosophy based on Dr. Maria Montessori’s understanding of the development of the whole child. She looked at the natural development of human beings, intensively from birth to age 18, and developed The Montessori method of education. I want to share some common Montessori values and themes that you will likely see in Montessori schools or homes.
The 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 of choice, freedom to work, and to self-construct. The ideal prepared environment must meet all the developmental needs of the child. A Montessori environment is aimed at supporting the child’s development by offering and preparing materials. These materials help them to work with and understand the ideas and concepts of the natural world. Beautiful materials in a Montessori environment provide rich learning experiences.
When considering the values and aspects of a prepared environment as it relates to home and school, it is important to note that our home environments do not (and should not) be a replica of Montessori classrooms. A classroom environment will have many unique and specific Montessori materials to be used in the context of a classroom environment. However, if you have intentions of doing Montessori-based homeschooling, you may have a collection of some Montessori classroom materials.
Something consistent in both the home and school Montessori environments when it comes to the prepared environment is offering tools and materials that help to support the child’s development and foster independence. This may mean having kitchen tools that are child-sized or having some appropriately sized child furniture. See this blog post about creating areas in your home to foster independence.
The Prepared Adult as a Trained Montessori Guide
In an authentic Montessori classroom, there will be a trained Montessori guide. This individual will have gone through intensive Montessori training, like Association Montessori Internationale or the American Montessori Society. Through Montessori training, the trainee will undergo a lot of personal growth while they learn about the principles of Montessori, gain a deep understanding of the needs of the child, and learn best practices in guiding children in a Montessori environment.
Dr. Maria Montessori talks about this transformation that needs to happen in the adult. This idea is that we need to prepare ourselves, both as Montessori teachers and also as parents to guide children to reach their full potential. This happens by understanding the needs of the child, preparing an environment that meets those needs, and guiding them to navigate the real world.
The aim of Montessori materials is to direct learning to be a more self-guided discovery process. For example, many of the materials will give children opportunities to explore, experience, and manipulate a concept to gain a deeper understanding. Materials progress from the most concrete to more abstract, supporting child development along the way. Many materials serve as an aid to the child, and their imagination as well as ultimately support them in their learning.
In an authentic Montessori school, you will notice that there is an uninterrupted work period. These uninterrupted blocks of work time are called work cycles. There is typically a morning and an afternoon work cycle. The morning work cycle is ideally three hours long, with no interruptions. During the work cycles, there is child-directed work. This does not mean that children do whatever they want, but it does give them the freedom to choose work that they have been presented, The adults in the environment will use observation to see if the child is using their freedom of free choice responsibly. In times when they are not, an adult will help direct those choices toward something productive for their development.
Children will receive presentations from their guide throughout the work cycle. These presentations may be for an individual or small groups.
Another value of Montessori schools is having multi-age classrooms. Younger students can learn a lot from older students in their classrooms. I saw the fruits of having a multi-age classroom becuase there were so many little problems that children encounter during the day, like not knowing where something is or not being able to find a word in the dictionary. In these moments, the children would look to a member of our community while I was occupied giving presentations to other children. These opportunities help to develop communication skills as well as overall life skills for the children
In traditional education, children are in classes with peers their exact same age. In a Montessori learning environment, the children are grouped into multi-age groups that align with their development. Dr. Maria Montessori recognized 4 distinct planes of development. The first plane of development is from birth to 6 years old, or the period of the Absorbent Mind. The second plane of development is from six to twelve years old. The third plane spans from twelve to eighteen years old, and the fourth plane is from eighteen to twenty-four years old. There are so many opportunities for social development in Montessori education because of the multi-age classrooms. These are the differnet Montessori environments based on these planes of development and below are their common titles
- Nido (2 Months- 12/15 Months) Once they start walking they can move to the toddler environment
- Toddler (12/15 months – 3 years)
- Children’s House (3-6 year olds) or Primary
- Lower Elementary (6 – 9 year olds)
- Upper Elementary (9 – 12 year olds)
- Adolescence (12 to 14 years old)
Grace and Courtesy
One way to develop and establish core values within a group of children or a family is by offering grace and courtesy lessons. These are simple lessons that help a child show an outward expression of grace to other individuals. A graceful and courteous child will be a well-mannered child in the environment. Grace and Courtesy lessons are things such as how to greet someone by name, how to open a door, how to serve a guest, and how to pass the butter at the dinner table.
Cosmic education is a plan that Dr. Montessori developed for the 6-12-year-old child or the 2nd-plane child. Dr. Montessori observed that 6-12-year-olds need a cosmic viewpoint. They needed to see and understand the universe. Montessori classrooms offer purposeful learning opportunities as well as help foster responsible citizens of their community. Montessori pedagogy emphasizes a deep respect for human beings. Through the five Great Lessons, the children will gain this cosmic viewpoint that Dr. Montessori writes about.
In the great work of Dr. Maria Montessori, she observed that children have sensitive periods. A sensitive period is an optimum period or span of time when the human being is particularly sensitive to certain environmental stimuli or impressions that are essential to its overall development. By capitalizing on these sensitive periods we can guide children to their fullest potential.
I shared some key components of Montessori and its’ values. A lot of these examples were specific to Montessori classroom settings, however, the principles and the understanding of the child are the same no matter the environment. Montessori education is an education as an aid to life. We can support that by preparing an environment that meets the needs of the child, being aware of the needs of their development as well as offering many grace and courtesy lessons while maintaining a consistent and loving environment.