“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
– BENJAMIN FRANKLIN
What makes Montessori so successful?
- The Role of the Directress
- The Physical Environment
- The Montessori Materials
- Order and Limitations
- The Social Aspect
The Role of the Directress
Dr. Montessori believed that education should focus on the whole personality. Its process begins at birth, and she is often quoted for saying, “Education is an aide to life.” The role of the educator is key. Parents and teachers both are educators in the child’s life. The Montessori teacher, referred to as a Directress, becomes the important link between the child and his home, and the child and the Montessori environment. The Directress leads and guides the children of the classroom based on the needs and interests the children show her. The children are very much active in their own learning and the path of learning can be quite different from child to child. Every child learns at his/her own pace and the materials are presented individually to the children. The learning that takes place in the Montessori classroom is the development of the whole child, not only specific to academics.
The Physical Environment
When preparing the environment physically, every detail is taken into consideration so that the environment is
attractive, practical and aesthetically pleasing. In the indoor environment, arrangement of all furniture is comfortable and leaves good space between tables and chairs. The tables and chairs are child-size. Having two sizes of each is beneficial as there are many sizes of children. Two children should be able to carry a table, so they are not too heavy. The children also do work on the floor with mats. The shelves that the work sits on are open, low and easy for the children to access the materials. The mirror is hung at a height easy for the children to gaze into. Pictures on the walls are hung at the height of the child, not at the adult’s eye level. The walls need not be clustered with the children’s own work. This sends the wrong message of why we are there. The work is part of the child’s inner growth and should not be valued or chosen. It is not a competition between the children.
The Montessori Materials
The fundamental aim of the materials is to stimulate the child into activity. The materials and exercises with the materials do not center on the child acquiring a specific skill, rather they are helping to develop the child as a whole. “They are, quite simply, aids to the child in its self-construction.” (Montessori, Jr. Education for Human Development, Ch. 2, p. 32) The purpose of working with the material is not what we see as the outward actions. (Although the outward actions and what the child gains from it, can be viewed as a bonus.) It is more relevant to observe the thought process that goes with it. The judgment and the reasoning are what further the child’s development. The main objective we are presenting is helping the child to think for himself. If he does not succeed on the first try, he has to figure it out for himself. The materials give the child new perspectives on former information. The child is finding new qualities, interrelationships and sequences. In return, since his body is involved this helps him to internalize the newly gained knowledge.
Order and Limitations
Another key principal for the Montessori Primary Classroom is the aspect of Order and Limitations. Order is the basis for intellectual growth. Order in the social group helps the group to function smoothly. The material in the classroom is arranged in a logical order from left to right in grades of difficulty. There is a particular order the materials are presented as well as the presentation of each specific material is given in a consistent order.
Limitations with the materials help the child to focus on the principals of the environment. If there are too many things in the environment, it makes it hard for the child to focus and the environment can become superficial. The objects will only attract the child on a shallow level instead of pulling out the detail, and therefore, the results Dr. Montessori saw will never be seen. The materials are not there to keep the children busy. Instead, they are there to create a love for what he is doing and a love for the environment.
The Social Aspect
Mixed Age Groups: A Social Benefit of the Classroom
- Representative of Society
- Children Learn from One Another:
- They observe each other.
- Older children present to younger children.
- Learn from each other by simply helping one another.
- Solve Social Problems Themselves
There are several social benefits of having a mixed age group in the Montessori classroom. The age range of the primary classroom is usually from 3-6 years old, although some children start as early as two and half. First, a mixed age group is more representative of society itself. Therefore the children begin to treat the classroom as a small community themselves.
There are several activities that help the children contribute to the group so that they feel part of the group. This sense of belonging helps to foster the community environment. These activities include any of the care of the environment exercises, like sweeping, dusting, care of pants or care of classroom animals as well as simply taking care of the materials in the environment. This means handling them with care, returning them to the proper place on a shelf and helping to keep them well-maintained and orderly. Another social benefit of the mixed age groups is that the children learn from one another. They do this in several ways. One way is that they observe one another. The AM works in such an intricate way that even though a small child may be working on his own individual work, he can still absorb what others may be doing around him. He can see work done on materials that he will do in the future and just by this observation the work will come to him much easier.
A second way the children learn from one another is by having older children present to younger children. Some people may resent that an older child gives a younger child a lesson. Dr. Montessori addresses this by stating: “…in the first place he does not teach all the time and his freedom is respected. Secondly, teaching helps him to understand what he knows even better than before. He has to analyze and rearrange his little store of knowledge before he can pass it on.” (Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 227)
A third way the children learn from one another is by simply helping one another. The younger children learn to ask the older children for help or explanations of what they are doing. The older children simply oblige. “There is a communication and harmony between the two that one seldom finds between the adult and the small child.” (Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 226)
Finally, the last benefit of having mixed age groups in the classroom is that the children solve social problems among themselves. If left alone, children will spontaneously help one another and solve problems of the social group. Dr. Montessori referred to this spontaneous activity as “Cohesion in the Social Unit.” She cites an example in The Absorbent Mind whereby if one child is walking in the wrong direction on the “line,” the children will either help the child to solve the problem or the child will recognize the problem and fix it himself. It may not be the way the adult would solve the problem, but it will usually be resolved without conflict and in an unprompted manner.