Tried and True
Dr. Maria Montessori was born in 1870 in Italy into a family that highly valued education. She carried on her family’s academic legacy and shattered educational barriers for women in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Growing up in Rome afforded her the privilege of enjoying many museums and libraries. At the age of 13, she entered an all boys’ school. She worked extremely hard and became one of Italy’s first women physicians. She later went on to take classes in education and became co-director of a training school for special education teachers. She was very scientific in observing teaching methods and documenting what worked best for these special needs kids.
In 1907 she opened Casa dei Bambini, a school for struggling children in a poor district in town. She used her research to set up learning opportunities for the kids that allowed them to use manipulatives and learn practical life skills. The kids thrived, and her methods became so well renowned that Montessori schools opened up in many different countries. Today, there are at least 4,000 certified Montessori schools in the United States and about 7,000 worldwide. (http://montessori.edu/FAQMontessori.html).
Supportive, Not Directive
The Montessori philosophy is based on the truth that when children are interested in what they are doing, they will successfully teach themselves. There is a specific relationship between the teacher, the child, and the environment. It is the teacher’s role to prepare the environment with activities that are developmentally appropriate for the child. The activities are presented to the child, one by one, one on one. When they have a good understanding of how to do the activity correctly, they are free to spend time on that activity or “work”.
Activities are designed to use all of the children’s senses. The child chooses what interests them and explores the activities at their own pace, for the length of time that they choose. Work is completed under the watchful eye of the teacher, to make sure the student understands and uses the materials correctly. The teacher plays a supportive role, not a directive role.
In the preschool and early elementary years, they focus on developing skills in practical life, sensorial development, language development, and preparation for early math. The goal is to do all work correctly and beautifully. The desire to make beautiful work comes naturally. Beautiful work and commitment to excellence is supported by the organized aesthetically pleasing environment.
Intentionally Crafted Environment
The ideal Montessori environment allows for kids of multiple ages to be together. The older kids help teach the younger kids. The environment is designed to be clean, simple, and orderly. There are no reward charts or prizes. Successful accomplishment of work is the reward in and of itself. The work activities are not toys, but are items we use in real life.
In the upper elementary years, ideas and concepts are explored through experiences and relationships that are formed with subject matter. These experiences can be abstract, through books and literature, or concrete, through hands-on science. During the upper elementary years (ages 9-12), their sense of self shifts from their personal learning experiences of their younger years outward to others through developing social interactions.
During the preschool and lower elementary years, there are many specific supplies you can make or purchase for use in your home. There are many books and websites with instructions on how to effectively implement this method in your home. For upper elementary, there are many websites that sell specific curriculum for homeschooling with the Montessori Method. Using the Montessori method through High School is not as common as other methods, but it is absolutely possible.