The Montessori Method
6/8/2022 | Emily Jaeger
What is the Montessori method and why is it so popular? Developed in 1897 by Italian physician Maria Montessori, the Montessori method fosters independent, individual learners with an emphasis on hands-on activities. The desired outcome: children who love learning and are passionate about pursuing their own interests.
Montessori also meets many of the educational goals that certain sectors of contemporary parents and guardians have for their children. It’s the opposite of everything that Gen-Xers and Millennials hated about their conventional education. And let’s be honest, all those wooden toys are very hygge.
While Montessori is not for everyone, it’s definitely a value-added label, even at “Montessori inspired.” Consider incorporating some of the tenants of Montessori education below into your childcare facility and discover the pros and cons of the Montessori method.
What is the Montessori Method?
According to Montessori’s encyclopedia, The Montessori Way (2003), Montessori programs “cultivate the child’s sense of independence, self-respect, love of peace, passion for self-chosen work done well, and the ability to respect and celebrate the individual spirit within people of all ages and the value of all life,” (Epstein & Zeldin).
Follow the child. The keyword (above) is independence. The Montessori method treats each child as an individual. By “following the child” Montessori educators support learners as they pursue their own interests, skills, and talents at their own pace and address their individualized needs. The Montessori method eschews frontal instruction of predetermined subjects and external motivation for learning (a.k.a grades). Rather, children learn to be self-disciplined and are internally motivated to learn more about what excites them.
Prepared Environment. This is just Montessori-speak for a classroom. Montessori classrooms are very intentionally organized. Set up in themed stations, Montessori classrooms often include wooden toys, natural science collections, class pets, and other interesting learning materials. Classroom furniture is built to be eye-level to young children and kept free of clutter. Learners explore what interests them in the classroom, moving on to the next level once they have mastered the previous stage.
Class Length. Learners are encouraged to focus their complete attention on a project and follow it through to the end. To do this, longer activity periods are a must...3-hour sessions are pretty common. Educators also use these “three-period lessons” to briefly introduce new topics, allow learners to explore them, and then review / adjust for errors incomprehension.
Community. Even though the Montessori method is meant to cultivate independent learners, this does not mean “lone wolves.” Learners are encouraged to actively participate in developing their classroom community. While children are free to pursue whatever classroom activities for as long as they need, this freedom is within carefully defined behavioral limits. Learners are not allowed to disturb others or destroy classroom materials. They learn through experience how to navigate sharing and small group work.
Additionally, Montessori’s emphasis on mixed-age classrooms fosters community. By grouping learners within a 3-year age range, learners develop long-term relationships with their teachers and peers. They have had the same teacher for 3 years and only ⅓ of the class changes/matriculates per year. The mixed-age classroom also encourages peer-to-peer learning with older learners (informally) instructing the younger ones in new activities.
Criticism of the Montessori Method
There’s no denying that the Montessori method has a lot of educational warm-and-fuzzies: instilling the love of learning, intrinsically supporting differentiated learning and special needs, peer-to-peer learning, and an emphasis on hands-on experiences. However, there are some challenges to widespread adoption. Of course, with each of these challenges, there is room to figure out your own zhuzh on the method.
Accessibility. Montessori materials and toys are expensive. In addition to material costs, because the Montessori method is so different from conventional education, it is rarely implemented outside of private, tuition-based institutions. While white and/or middle-to-upper middle-class families are familiar and excited about Montessori, the buy-in (or ability to buy-in) doesn’t necessarily translate to all demographics. Additionally, the major differences in educational models and teaching styles can prove problematic during the transition to conventional elementary or secondary school.
Lone-wolf syndrome. Montessori’s independent learner is still meant to be an active participant in classroom community building. However, some do question whether the model of independent projects or small group work provides enough experience with collaboration.
Lack of Structure. Even though “follow the child” addresses the concept of differentiated learning, some kids just need more structure. Structured schedules, routines, and even a more conventional classroom setup make the classroom a safe space where kids know what’s coming at them.
To learn more about the Montessori method as well as steps for becoming an official Montessori school or educator, visit The Montessori Foundation. Also, check out Playground’s upcoming blogs to learn more about different educational methodologies to try out at your childcare facility.
Emily Jaeger is a professional writer with a background in education (she's taught every age group from preschool to retirement). Her writing has been featured on Parents Magazine, Kveller, Motherfigure and more. You can connect with Emily via her website emilyjaeger.com or on instagram @soulinparaphrase.
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