Montessori is an alternative philosophy of education which is based on a deep respect for and appreciation of the potential of each child. Maria Montessori founded this method of education 100 years ago in Italy, opening her first school in 1907, and setting up the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) in 1929.
The main difference between Montessori and traditional schools is that in the Montessori environment, the children are teaching themselves through individual practice with carefully prepared materials.
The teacher, or guide, invites the child to a lesson and demonstrates the use of the material, including taking the material from the shelf, undertaking the work and putting the material back on the shelf ready for the next child to use. After giving the lesson, the teacher invites the child to do the activity on his or her own. Although the child has been shown in a particular way (the lessons are done carefully, with great attention to order, grace and precision), the child will work with the materials in his or her own way.
Each child is free to choose work from the range of materials that have been presented to him or her. Since each child works in this way, the children are able to work independently and take responsibility, not only for their own work but also for the classroom as a whole.
The practical life area of the classroom invites children into the everyday world that they see around them. The activities are purposeful and are undertaken to help the child to develop control and coordination of movement as well as to develop the child’s ability to concentrate. Children are drawn to these activities by the beauty of the materials and by the children’s interest in completing the work involved.
The sensorial materials are built around the concept of isolating a particular quality to allow the child to form and classify impressions of size, shape, and other characteristics of his or her environment. The sensorial activities, including the pink tower, fraction insets, geometric solids and knobless cylinders, give the child repeated experience with finely-crafted and mathematically-precise materials. The globes, together with the puzzle maps of the continents, provide an introduction to geography.
In the language area, the most important component is the spoken language. The child is guided step by step through the process of hearing the sounds in words, tracing sandpaper letters to learn the sounds of each letter of the alphabet, and then to writing and reading phonetic words. The language exercises encourage the child to move towards being a total reader. Once the child has some facility with reading, the child is given the opportunity to explore the function of words and the structure of sentences.
In the mathematics area, children work with concrete materials to develop an understanding of the numbers 0 to 10, the decimal system, and the operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The hands-on exercises in the mathematics area give the child a strong foundation for more abstract work in the years ahead.