The Springmont Difference
What is Montessori?
The Montessori method is a child-centered approach to education based on the scientific observations of children done by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female physician in Italy, in the early 20th century. Dr. Montessori ignored preconceived notions of what a school should look like and instead used her training as a scientist and doctor to carefully observe children and design classrooms and materials based on these observations. In use for over 100 years, the Montessori method views children as naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating their own learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment. Within this carefully designed space and with teachers as guides, children develop to their greatest potential - physically, socially, emotionally, academically and cognitively.
Essential elements of accredited Montessori education include:
Montessori students learn concepts by discovery while working with specially designed materials, rather than only from direct instruction and memorization. The educational materials developed by Montessori are often made out of natural, aesthetically-pleasing materials such as wood, rather than plastic, and are designed to lead children from concrete manipulation to abstract understanding. Rather than memorizing math facts, children begin by counting and adding using beautiful sets of color-coded beads. They use a set of wooden letters known as the movable alphabet to learn to read and write. Maria Montessori observed that children need to move and learn through experiences, rather than through sitting and listening to a teacher.
Montessori classes are composed of students of mixed ages, generally divided into three-year groups. Springmont provides education for Toddlers (18 months - 3 years old), Primary children (3 - 6-year-olds), Lower Elementary students (6 - 9-year-olds), Upper Elementary learners (9 - 12-year-olds) and Middle School students (13 - 14-year-olds). Peer learning is encouraged as the youngest children gain interest and learn by observing their older classmates and older children solidify their knowledge and gain valuable leadership skills by giving lessons to younger children.
Montessori schools have long, uninterrupted blocks of time for classroom work, ideally 2-3 hours depending on the students’ ages. These extended time periods allow children to engage deeply and reach intense concentration. Rather than having 30 minutes for math and then 30 minutes for language, children choose activities from within a prescribed range of options and have long morning and afternoon work periods in classrooms that encompass all subjects.
In addition to traditional math, language and science study, accredited Montessori schools include Practical Life and Sensorial curriculums.
- Practical Life exercises help children learn skills used in everyday life. For young children, this includes carefully pouring water, tying their shoes and scrubbing a table to name just a few. For older children, this includes things like budgeting and starting a small business.
- Montessori believed that children learn through their senses so Sensorial learning, most prevalent in Toddler and Primary classrooms, includes materials specifically designed to help them refine their sense of smell, hearing and observation. Math lessons include tactile manipulatives and language lessons include sorting and classifying based on size, weight, shape and color, sometimes blindfolded to isolate senses other than sight.
Montessori teachers are sometimes referred to as guides, rather than teachers, and this reflects their non-traditional roles. A Montessori teacher’s job is to observe the children and introduce them to the academic materials at just the right time. Sometimes the teacher is hard to find in the classroom, as he/she is generally working one-on-one with a child, rather than standing at the front of the room talking to the whole group. Maria Montessori saw the role of the teacher as providing children with tools for learning, rather than pouring knowledge and facts into them. Montessori teachers are highly experienced in observing each individual child's characteristics, tendencies, innate talents and abilities and are trained specifically for the age of students they teach.
Work in a Montessori school is child-directed. Teachers give children lessons on materials they haven’t used before, but children can then independently choose to work on it when they please. Children in a Montessori classroom are free to move within the classroom and may choose where to sit and what to work on, with guidance from the teacher. Children are not allowed to dance around the room and distract classmates or only draw all day, but in general, they can choose whether to work on math or language, or whether to sit at a table or on the floor.
Montessori focuses on educating the whole child - physically, socially, emotionally, academically and cognitively. This means that you might find a 3-year-old carefully walking on a line while carrying a glass of water, learning to control his body and his movements, while nearby another child practices subtraction. Each component is considered equally important.
Montessori classes often have 25 students. Each student has an individualized plan for lessons and can be found working at his/her own pace and academic level - all of which is observed and tracked by the teacher. Rather than giving class-wide lessons, Montessori teachers give one-on-one lessons to young students and small group lessons to older students, depending on their specific levels and needs. This is possible because students largely work independently, spending much of the day practicing and perfecting work on which they have already had a lesson.
Montessori classrooms are often referred to as “prepared environments,” meaning they are thoughtfully designed with everything children need to explore and learn independently. Materials are appropriate in size, organized by subject area, and placed within reach of the children. Beautiful materials entice children to want to learn and work, and students are responsible for helping maintain the environment. Montessori teachers observe the children and decide what work to place on the shelves and what lessons to give to meet the children’s interests and needs at the time. Montessori classrooms are far more minimalist than traditional classrooms, particularly for young children. Muted colors and natural light foster concentration, everything in the classroom has a specific spot where it belongs, and work is carefully organized to help children develop a sense of order.
Maria Montessori lived during a time of world wars and global upheaval, and perhaps for this reason, she placed great emphasis on peace education. She believed that the future of the world depended on teaching children the importance of peace. There is a great emphasis on community, within the classroom and the school and in the wider global community. Children learn about the world and internalize tools for calming themselves and conducting peaceful conflict resolution.