Put a child in a room with toys and objects, and let them do whatever they want. This was what Dr. Maria Montessori, a physician, innovator, and educator, believed.
She believed that children learn better when they choose what to learn. And, she went on to pioneer the Montessori method of education. Unlike traditional methods of learning which are educator-led, education at the Montessori learning centers is child-led.
How the Montessori Learning Centers Came to Be
Dr. Maria Montessori was given a seemingly impossible task to open a day-care center for underprivileged children from poor families in San Lorenzo, a district in Rome.
These kids – who never attended schools before – were unruly but showed great interest in solving puzzles, cleaning their surroundings, and preparing meals. Maria Montessori observed how the kids were able to learn things by absorbing knowledge from their surroundings.
Maria Montessori discovered that kids, individually and in groups, explore their surroundings, and learn better. Such experiential learning – guided by a teacher – leads to increased understanding of language, math, science, music, and social interactions.
Thus, there were three things central to a Montessori school – the student, the teacher, and the environment.
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Montessori Children’s House
She started the first Montessori school – called the Casa da Bambini (Children’s House)- in San Lorenzo. The unique learning and activity materials designed for such schools are still in use, even today!
In a Montessori learning center, the learning materials are essentially objects. These improve sensory skills. These also promote understanding of concepts like dimension, shape, texture, color, besides improving academic concepts.
- Montessori schools are designed to support learning in children from infancy to those in middle school. Classrooms are divided based on age groups – 0-3 (infancy), 3-6 (primary), 6-12 (elementary) and 12-15 (adolescence)
- A Montessori classroom is a colorful one with several play stations.
- Children engage hands-on with learning material and toys, working individually or in small groups.
- There is no reward system in place and no competition. The activities promote self-paced learning and a child can choose what s/he wants to work on.
- The teacher is an observer and a guide who supervises what the students are up to. The teacher does not interfere in their process unless it is something like children fighting or disturbing others! The teacher encourages children to think and work on their own.
Here is a short video on the Montessori method of education followed across the world:
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What Makes Learning in a Montessori Learning Center Different?
Traditional education focuses on improving academic learning and grasp on subjects like Math. However, the focus of the Montessori method of education is to build an independent individual. This happens through a focus on overall development – intellectual, social, emotional, and physical.
The children begin their sessions playing with objects like utensils, blocks, toys, even water. Learning happens through sensorial materials like blocks, stacks, building towers – that help focus on one concept at a time. Each subject has its set of activity materials and tools that promote the learning of concepts. It is also common to see children of different ages learn and work together in a Montessori classroom. This is important because it fosters peer-to-peer learning and improves social skills!
In a Montessori learning center, kids are encouraged to engage in activities like gardening, arranging flowers, folding clothes and tidying up – which is unusual in a traditional environment.
In a traditional classroom setting, a teacher comes with a rigid timetable, devoting fixed slots for certain subjects and activities. In a Montessori academy, however, there are no firm timetables. Also, different kids and different groups of kids engage in different activities at any given time. The teacher introduces them to new activities guides them to work through it.
Cons of Montessori Method of Teaching
- While it originated from a slum district in Rome, over the years, this method of education has become less accessible. Montessori learning centers have been associated with the tag of being expensive. Not everyone can afford Montessori schools unless they are willing to spend huge sums on the school and learning materials.
- The unstructured curriculum is perceived by many as being quite loose. The onus lies on the teachers to ensure that the self-paced learning is not too slow.
- A huge number of Montessori schools have mushroomed globally over the years. Not all of them adhere to the Montessori principles and not all teachers are trained alike.
In this changing landscape of education and workplace, will Montessori education stand the test of time? What do you think? Let us know in the comments!