The Montessori method of teaching young children was developed by Italian educator and physician, Dr. Maria Montessori. One of the most influential pioneers in early childhood education, her ideas have become known and recognized throughout the world and have significantly influenced mainstream education.
Put simply, the Montessori method is an educational philosophy based on the belief that all children possess an innate desire to learn, explore their world, and be independent – from a very young age. With emphasis placed on a deep respect for the child and their vast inner potential, the teachers take on a more observational role and follow the principle, “help the child to help himself.”
Children learn best by doing things for themselves. In a Montessori environment, the children are given the opportunity to acquire basic knowledge and skills through their own interests and hands-on experience. This measure of freedom allows each child to develop good working habits, social interaction, self-discipline and self-esteem, initiative, and powers of deliberation. Children are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and trust their own ability to think and solve problems independently. With the capacity to choose and complete one’s own work comes a deeper sense of self-worth.
Just as in a family, the ages are mixed together in one class. Being looked up to as role models by younger children and having the opportunity to show what they have already learned is an opportunity all children eagerly await to experience, which has powerful benefits for both the younger and older children.
When you visit a Montessori classroom, you will notice that everyone is busy and interested in what they are doing. One child is experimenting with magnets, others are working together on a puzzle, and several children are cooking up delicious treats in the play kitchen . The Montessori classroom is not the domain of the adults in charge; it is, instead, a carefully prepared environment designed to facilitate the development of independence and a sense of personal empowerment. This is a children’s community. They move freely within it, selecting work that captures their interest. All children are responsible for the care of their own child-sized environment. When they are hungry, they prepare their own snack. They use the bathroom with little to no assistance. When something spills, they help each other carefully clean up.
Essential elements of a Montessori environment are:
- • Mixed-age classrooms
- • Lengthy, uninterrupted blocks of work time
• Special self-correcting educational materials developed by Dr.
Maria Montessori herself that are placed on low, open shelves.
Students learn concepts from working with these materials
rather than by direct instruction
- • Beauty, harmony, order and cleanliness
Founder of Montessori
Born in Italy, she was the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School. In 1907, she opened the first Montessori school, called the Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House). The school was located in the worst slum district of Rome and the class consisted of fifty children between two and five years of age. Using the classroom as her laboratory for observing children, she devised a method of education based on the central ideas of freedom for the child within a carefully planned and structured environment.
The great pioneering achievement of Dr. Montessori was to recognize the crucial importance of a child’s first six years of development. It is during this time that a child’s powers of absorption are highest, and lifelong attitudes and patterns of learning are firmly formed. Dr. Montessori traveled the world, establishing schools and lecturing about her discoveries. Her books have been translated in more than 20 languages and the Montessori method has become part of every good teacher-training course.
Today, nearly 100 years later, her revolutionary concepts bring a sense of joy, freedom, and achievement to classrooms throughout the world. Her schools continue to thrive and expand – a tribute to her inspirational insight – which has helped change the course of early childhood education.
What is Reggio-Emilia?
The Reggio-Emilia Approach was developed after World War II by educator Loris Malaguzzi and parents in the village of Reggio Emilia, Italy. A philosophy based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community, the Reggio-Emilia approach is built on the premise that all children are endowed with a hundred languages – referring to the many ways children have of expressing themselves. Exploration and discovery are supported in an enriching environment, based on the interests of the children through a self-guided, emergent curriculum. Children are believed to be “knowledge bearers” and are encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas about everything they could do during the day. Rather than being seen as the target of instruction, children are seen as an apprentice, researcher, and an active constructor of knowledge. Much of the instruction at Reggio-Emilia schools takes place in the form of projects where children have opportunities to explore, observe, hypothesize, question, and discuss to clarify their understanding.
Hallmarks of the Reggio-Emilia program:
- • Children must have some control over the direction of their learning
• Children must be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, seeing and
- • Children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves
• A high level of parental involvement is fostered, where they are viewed as partners and
collaborators and are involved in every aspect of the curriculum
Role of the Teacher
The teacher is considered to be a co-learner, collaborator and researcher, not just an instructor. Teachers are encouraged to facilitate learning by planning activities and lessons based on the child’s interests, asking questions to further the child’s understanding, and actively engaging in the activities alongside the child. Projects begin with teachers observing and questioning children about the topic of interest. Based on the children’s responses, teachers introduce materials, questions and opportunities that provoke children to further explore the topic. Reggio-Emilia teachers provide children with different avenues for thinking, revising, constructing, negotiating, developing and symbolically expressing their thoughts and feelings.
Using a variety of media, teachers give careful attention to the documentation and presentation of the thinking of the children. Rather than making judgements about the child, the teacher inquires and listens closely to the children. An example of documentation might be a book or panel with the student’s words, drawings, and photographs. By making learning visible, the teachers are able to study the thinking and feeling of the students in order to gain insight into their understanding. Also, documentation gives parents information regarding their child’s learning experience while creating an archive for the class and school.
Role of the Environment
The organization of the physical environment is crucial to the Reggio-Emilia early childhood program, and is often referred to as the child’s ”third teacher.” The preschools are generally filled with indoor plants and vines, and have an abundance of natural light. The children’s artwork and project work is always displayed at the children’s eye level. In each classroom there are studio spaces in the form of a centrally located atelier and clearly designated spaces for group activities. Throughout the school, there is an effort to create opportunities for children to interact.