The Montessori Approach

I am reading Theories of Development – Concepts and Applications, Fourth Edition (2000) by William Crain (turns out there is a Fifth Edition (2005). My friend and colleague, who happens to be our Middle School Learning Specialist, loaned me the book knowing I would find it interesting, and so far, she was correct!

I have never taken an educational theory course, but do have twenty-seven years of teaching experience to inform my reading of this book. First up in my reading (choosing by interest and not sequence) is Maria Montessori (1870-1952). I had not realized that she hailed from the 1800s. My limited knowledge of Montessori practice was based on general conversation with other educators and occasional snippets that might have appeared in the news.

Of particular interest was listening to a Dutch friend describe her Montessori teaching experience years ago in Amsterdam. Along with another of our Dutch friends, she was responsible for starting a Montesori high school in the Netherlands, in order for the younger Montessori-taught students to have a follow-up school to attend.

The Montessori approach is hands-on and experiential, with each child progressing at their own pace and pursuing their own interests. Children are not simply small adults – they learn and think in ways quite different from adults. The process of learning includes “sensitive periods” identified by Montessori as “genetically programmed blocks of time during which the child is especially eager and able to master certain tasks.” In their order of appearance, these sensitive periods include:

  • order – everything in its place and a place for everything
  • details – noticing the minutia
  • use of hands – tactile, kinesthetic control and exploration of the world
  • walking – the learning of which Montessori likened to “a kind of second birth” which the child does for the sake of doing, and not with the intent of getting any place in particular
  • languagethe child absorbs language unconsciously” and this process of acquiring language is universal, regardless of geography or culture

The teacher’s role is to simply facilitate the natural developmental rhythms of each child as they progress through their sensitive periods. Additionally, the teacher structures the leaning environment to foster a student’s free choice in deciding what to explore, with a focus on independent learning without the need of external motivators or reprimands. The materials in a Montessori environment scaffold in skills levels and include Nature as an important component.

Montessori found that young children easily plunged into deep concentration when engaged in a task that interested them, and by extension, for which they were developmentally ready. Her practical philosophy was to provide an environment to support this natural form of learning. However, the provision and encouragement of such an environment relies upon a strong set of guiding principles, the deviation from which does not seem to have been encouraged or accepted.

Next school year I intend to find a Montessori school to visit and observe. Meanwhile, this Davidson Film will suffice.

The International Montessori Index – a rich source of schools and details of the philosophy
Maria Montessori – pictures and biography
North American Montessori Teachers’ Assocation
Google Timeline for Maria Montessori
–  an interesting search result (Did you know Google could provide this type of result?)


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