The Educational Theory of Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori left a long lasting mark on education around the world. She is regarded as one of the most famous and accomplished educators of her time. Her philosophies and techniques are studied and utilized in universities and schools today. Her life is a story of remarkable perseverance and achievement. Maria Montessori was born in Chiaravalle, Italy on August 31, 1870. Maria Montessori established much of her theories on education based on the works of the scholar Froebel, and the physicians Jean Itard and Edouard Sequin which inspired her theories of sensory education for early childhood. Montessori’s idea of sensory education included hands on activities that would require the child to tune into their five senses to heightening their intellectual abilities. She was inspired by “Aristotle’s philosophy that there was nothing in the intellect which does not fit exist in the senses…[and] The hands and mind work together, making the learning experience one of doing rather than simply observing”. When the children use their senses they become active participants in their education and absorb knowledge through their environment. It was through this analysis of the senses that language and abstract thought developed in children. Not only was it important for children to develop sensory education and an understanding of their senses in the learning process, but it is important for children in Montessori’s learning theories for children to develop practical life skills through linguistic exercises, sensory training and physical activities that “directly fit the child for the duties of practical life”. The knowledge and skills worthwhile knowing based on Montessori’s vision are sensory education, manipulation of one’s environment, practical life skills, and self-discipline. These core skills act as a tool box for children to become active learners and contributing members of society.

The goals of a Montessori education were to develop sensory training, language acquisition, arithmetic, physical education, practical life skills and abstract thought, through the teaching of the whole child and the integration of the family into the early education system. All materials in the Montessori environment must have a specific place, be structured, prepared, aesthetically pleasing and child sized. The organization of the environment is crucial to a child’s learning because that is where children will take in, or absorb the information and therefore learn. It must be child-sized so that the child can access and manipulate the environment. The materials that Montessori developed “were designed to be self-correcting, and the children thrived on the activity involved with learning”. They were auto-instructional in that they did not require a teacher to show the children how to use the materials, the children were able to play with the tool and gain knowledge from it on their own. The teacher was simply there as an observer and a facilitator. Montessori allowed the children the freedom to choose what materials they wanted to work with as well as who they wanted to work with. “Montessori felt that the children were far less inhibited when learning from their peers. There is much that a child can teach another child more easily than a teacher can. There is mutual respect among the children and a lack of competitiveness that allows them to learn from each other”. It is not uncommon in a Montessori classroom to see two children working together on an activity one day, and then individually the next.

Mistakes were a natural part of the learning process according to Montessori. She believed that when children work with the environment they will naturally make mistakes and often those mistakes are a critical part of the learning process. It is the repetition of the activity that the child will gain mastery and learn the concept. Montessori modelled her educational method around the experience of the individual. She believed that the individual must construct their own knowledge by manipulating their environment. As a result of this belief, Montessori would have said that the individual’s opinion takes precedence. In the case of education that individual is the child. The child should be listened to and their opinion should take precedence over all others because it is their educational experience. Based on Montessori’s belief that children are superior, and her individualistic methods, the opinion of the child takes precedence. Children are constantly evolving and developing and they know what they need more than any adult. It is their education and they should not only have a say, but their voice should be heard the loudest.

Story time

A philosophy professor stood before his class with some items on the table in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, about 2 inches in diameter.

He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up the remaining open areas of the jar.

He then asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “Yes.” “Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things – your family, your partner, your health, your children – things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter – like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else, the small stuff.”

“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party, or fix the disposal.” Take care of the rocks first—the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just pebbles and sand.

Separation Anxiety in Preschool Children

The first few weeks of Montessori preschool are always a time of adjustment and many students (and parents) feel a sense of separation anxiety which is perfectly normal. Separation anxiety is often caused by fear of the unknown when it comes to a new situation or it can relate to something that is happening at home or to something that the child has just experienced before arriving at school. Remember, separation anxiety is a phase, it is perfectly natural and it will pass.

Separation Anxiety :

Tips for Montessori Parents

1. Make the goodbye prompt and positive. As a parent, the best thing you can do is give your child a hug and kiss, say, “I love you” and reassure him/her that you will be back soon.

2. Establish a goodbye routine. Preschoolers crave routine and Montessori parents who establish a consistent goodbye routine usually have better luck with successful goodbyes. Parents use a secret handshake with their child or a secret hand gesture. Other parents give their child a kiss on the forehead or offer a reassuring thumbs-up or rub noses with their child.

By giving your child something he can count on, he is likely to go to school much more willingly and that special moment between the two of you is a great way to start the day and provide that sense of reassurance.

3. Trust your child's teacher. Keep in mind that Montessori preschool teachers have chosen this profession because they love children and they have a wealth of ideas and strategies to help settle a child who is feeling upset. The strategies might involve anything from a nurturing hug, redirection, pairing them up with another Montessori student or simply keeping the child close until he/she is ready to engage with an activity. Ask your child's Montessori teacher to step in to help with goodbyes when you give the sign that you are ready to go.

4. Acknowledge how your child is feeling. It is important to accept and respect your child's temporary unhappiness as it is very real and very normal. Say things like " I know you feel sad when Mommy leaves, but you will have a good time, and I will be back very soon.” Avoid the temptation to pressure your child not to cry or to offer bribes for "good  behavior "Learning to cope with sadness is an important learning process for your child.

5. Ask for help. Sometimes stepping back from the drop off routine can make a huge difference in how your child reacts. Often, a child who experiences separation anxiety with one parent is absolutely fine if the other parent does the drop off. You could also try having another relative, close friend or grandparent give it a try for a few days.

6. Stay calm and be enthusiastic. Modeling the appropriate behavior is key to a smooth transition from home to Montessori classroom, so try very hard to ensure your child does not sense your anxiety. Talk about how much fun Montessori preschool will be, talk about her friends and classmates. Discuss the different works she might want to choose and reinforce how lucky she is to have such a special school and that you cannot wait to hear about her day when you pick her up.

7. Always be on time. Arriving late can often spark separation anxiety. Give yourselves plenty of time in the morning. Children often get anxious when rushed, so do your best to give your child extra time in the morning to get ready and to arrive at school on time with the group. Additionally, it is important to be punctual when picking up your child. If you are late, it can cause your child even more anxiety and make dropping her off the next time that much harder.

NOTE: Be prepared for regression. Just when you think your child has conquered his/her feelings of separation anxiety, along comes a weekend or an illness that keeps your child home for a few days and you are right back to square one. As frustrating and upsetting as this can be, it is perfectly normal. Stick to the above strategies and you should notice a significant different in a couple of days.