Montessori Education and Philosophy
Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was a physician, educator and multiple nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. She developed a system that nurtures and develops children’s natural desire to learn. Her approach has been repeatedly validated by neuroscience in recent years. The Montessori approach concentrates on the social, emotional, physical, spiritual and cognitive development of the child. We look at the child as a whole and work to help them develop to their greatest potential by giving them the tools and strategies they need to make the most of each stage of development.
The Montessori classroom environment is set up to attract and engage the child’s interest and curiosity. Activities are set out in such a way to contain everything the child needs to complete the activity themselves. This helps the child’s feeling of confidence and agency as they see they can do things without needing an adult’s help. Activities for all ages are broken down into concrete, manageable tasks that children can practise until they can put them together to complete something more complex.
As the child is drawn toward specific areas and materials, the Montessori guide provides lessons in related areas, following the needs and interests of the child. Children are then free to choose their own activities and repeat them until they are satisfied. This nurtures concentration, as well as self-discipline, and grounds the child’s confidence as a learner.
The Montessori Method maintains that children possess a natural drive to explore, discover and learn. In a carefully prepared, stimulating environment, they will explore in a way that supports the blossoming of their own personality. Surrounded by opportunities to exercise their abilities, children become absorbed in their chosen tasks. This develops a sense of order, concentration, independent work habits, initiative, and inner control — so exterior discipline is seldom necessary.
Montessori classes typically span a three- to four-year age range. Children are usually in the same class with the same teacher for at least three years, creating a community of people who know and care about each other and understand how to be with each other. When a child starts in the classroom, they usually begin as the youngest, watching those older to learn the social mores and the possibilities for activity. As they move through the years to their third year, learning more and more, they then become the leaders and role models for the younger children entering the class, building leadership skills, confidence and independence.
Since each child advances at their own pace, students are able to enjoy their own accomplishments, with no need to compare themselves with others in the class. The interaction between children across age groups nurtures social bonds. Younger children absorb the modelling behaviours of older students and preview upcoming activities, while older children build leadership skills, confidence and independence as they share their skills. The children in each class help to establish the ground rules for behaviour for their class. This helps them become responsible for their own behaviour and gives them practice in self-government through the enforcement of ground rules.
At MSB our classrooms are equipped with classic Montessori materials which are attractive and enticing to use. These are set out on child-sized shelves so that the children can access what they want easily. These materials are self-correcting, which means when a piece does not fit, or something is left over, the child can see what happened and make any corrections without adult intervention, learning that they are competent individuals able to manage mistakes independently in the process.
The materials form part of the overall prepared environment, to which very careful attention is paid in Montessori classrooms. Features of the prepared environment include a calm atmosphere, responsive and well-trained adults and beautiful surroundings incorporating nature and natural materials where possible. Each classroom has appropriate-sized furniture, equipment, tools and utensils.
In our classrooms, we ensure there is at least one three-hour work cycle a day, particularly in the Preschool, Lower and Upper Primary classrooms. This allows children to undertake long periods of uninterrupted work so that they can immerse themselves in the activity of their choosing.
The morning cycle typically looks something like this:
A child enters their class and transitions from home to school expectations. Some children arrive with a plan already in place and get right on it, others don’t decide until they get to school. Most children spend their first moments in class greeting friends and catching up on news, just as an adult would at work. Children often choose something that is familiar and known to them for their first activity of the day, as they orient their brain to learn. After they finish the first activity, they might be ready for something more serious that takes more effort and brain power. About an hour into the work cycle children can appear restless. In a traditional classroom this might be when a new activity is introduced, or children go outside for playtime. But in the Montessori classroom, the guide waits out this false fatigue, knowing that this brief restlessness is a preparation for the more important work to come. After 10 minutes or so the classroom as a whole moves into a more calm and concentrated phase as children became immersed in their chosen work.
To protect the work cycle, at MSB we limit interruptions to the day as much as possible. We incorporate Indonesian language teaching into the school day, and have music and yoga teachers visit in the afternoon, clustering them together wherever possible. Physical education (PE) is the only interruption to the morning cycle for the Primary students. This is held Friday mornings for the first hour.
Freedom of movement is another important element of the Montessori approach. Children are encouraged to move around the room as they need, so long as they follow established ground rules. Children may work where they like: on the floor, a desk, or outdoors; and they may work with whom they like. They use the bathroom when they need without asking, and for Preschool and up, eat their snack when they get hungry. Students who stay a full day eat their lunches together, in their class, with their class teachers.
While group work is the focus in traditional preschools, in the Montessori classrooms three- to six-year-olds tend to choose to work independently to practise and consolidate important conceptual skills. When the children have accomplished these basic skills, they are then ready to find their place in the social world, and tend to want to work in groups. That’s why from Lower Primary, Montessori children start to work in small groups of their choosing. In traditional schools, Primary students are typically encouraged to mostly work independently, but Montessori recognised the natural inclination of six- to 12-year-old children to be social.
Montessori is a very hands-on approach to learning. There is almost no time when we expect a child to learn passively. They are active and drive their own learning at a pace that means they are continually challenging themselves.
Underpinning Montessori is the idea that children should be prepared for the world in which they live. At the back of our minds, with everything we’re doing at MSB, we are thinking about how to help prepare an individual who is able to move into the next phase of their life effortlessly, not just the next phase of school. So in Preschool, for instance, we think about the basic skills they will need in Primary, but also the basic skills they need to use in life. How do you interrupt someone who is busy? How do you clean up after yourself? What do you do if someone is bothering you in some way? How do you ask to work with a friend? These soft skills carry through to create students who are leaders beyond school life and equipped to think holistically.