Thursday, March 19, 2009

What is Montessori?

The prepared environment and the role of the teacher

In my opinion, the prepared environment is the base of a Montessori education. It is through the environment that the adult helper attempts to meet each child's individual, changing needs. The environment is clean, orderly and attractive. To begin with, the adult entices the child to work, through presenting and re-presenting a variety of activities, waiting patiently for the day when one of the activities will “call” to the child, and the child's concentration will be caught.

When that happens, the adult must quietly step back. The adult's role now is to protect that fragile concentration from interruption, for in the early stages, if it is broken, days or even one or two weeks might pass before the child's concentration is caught again. Even a friendly “How are things going?” or an awareness of being observed might be enough to shatter the child's concentration.

The child begins to make choices based not on surface appeal and whatever catches their eye but based on a deep inner desire to explore certain activities. The adult's role is to observe and consider, changing the environment and making new presentations and re-presentations based on the child's needs. The child will not be in this perfect state of knowing his or her own needs all the time; sometimes children will be slaves to whims. The adult must learn to distinguish between indiscriminate choices and the choices that stem from a genuine inner need.

Trust the child

I think the hardest task of a Montessori teacher or parent is to trust that children will educate themselves if allowed to follow their own interests as described above. According to Maria Montessori, there should be no compulsion. Children are invited and enticed to work, not coerced.


Closely tied to trust in the child is a great respect for the child. Not only are children treated with respect in all interactions, but their concentration is also respected. Adults do not interrupt a child who is absorbed in work, and children are taught to avoid doing so too.

Children's ability to care for themselves and the environment is respected. It has been observed that children derive enjoyment and a sense of pride and self worth from being able to look after themselves and their environment. To that end, presentations of practical life activities are made and children are premitted to do as much for themselves as they are capable of and as they want to.

The principle of respect encompasses every aspect of a Montessori environment. As well as respect between people, there is also respect for the things in the environment and for everything in the wider environment of the world. The Montessori materials are treated with care.

"Help me to help myself"

It is acknowledged that help can be a hindrance: when a child is capable, but only just, of doing up the buttons on a jacket and is trying hard to do so, it would be quickest to take over and do the task oneself, but that is not what the child wants, nor is it actually helpful to the child.

If a child completes a task or activity, ignorant of some sort of error, the child is not corrected. Instead the adult makes a note to re-present that activity at a later time.

The materials

Maria Montessori created a set of apparatus from which children can discover for themselves, and then practise, many different concepts. Even complicated mathematical concepts such as calculating cube roots are presented concretely with physical apparatus so that through seeing and building for themselves, children can reach their own understanding of each concept.

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