Early Childhood Education

Montessori Early Childhood Education

Where does the name Montessori come from?

Ever wondered what Montessori meant in reference to Montessori schools? Who was Montessori anyhow? Well, Maria Montessori was a pediatrician/psychiatrist who lived in the early 1900s of which there are now over 5,000 schools in North America alone based on her approach over 100 years ago. It is a philosophy that is still growing strong not only in America but also worldwide. So what is the Montessori Philosophy?

Montessori Philosophy

Although often referred to as ‘child-centered’ the Montessori philosophy is actually much more involved than it appears. It is a dynamic, exciting place for a young child to be. A Montessori classroom is what is coined a ‘prepared environment’ the real link between the child and his or her world. A teacher is actually referred to as a ‘directress’ or ‘guide’. It is the responsibility and duty of the teacher to provide a space with specific restraints, rules and direction to help a child to organize his mind, thoughts and body in space within the classroom. There are special Montessori materials that have self-corrective features where children can figure out the fault of their work without having to be told. For example, a material called the “Knob Cylinders” is like a puzzle game where knobs of wooden cylinders are pulled out of a rectangular block and children are only able to place those pieces back exactly in the space where they are meant to be placed otherwise they will not fit.

Children also work at their own individual levels and at their own pace. Materials are multi-faceted and can be used in increasingly more complicated ways. As a child masters one stage of a material, for example, the bead chains, they can learn basic counting at first and then once this is mastered, children can go on to the more complicated task of skip counting. 

Teachers allow children to naturally gravitate to materials they are interested in whether they are sensorial materials like blocks and puzzles or mathematics or language. Maria Montessori, the founder and developer of this pedagogical approach believed as a scientist and medical doctor that children go through ‘sensitive periods’ where a part of the brain is wired to seek out activities for that sensitive period. She believed that children have a sensitive period to mathematics, to language, for example, and that they naturally gravitate to those things. By placing materials in their environment related to these things they will seek those things out. Just as there is a period of time in which babies pick up their native language, children also absorb certain aspects of academic life like culture and science.

Classrooms have mixed age ranges, a preschool class, for example, is usually made up of children 3 to 6 years of age. The older children function as mentors to the younger children, while the younger children are able to learn from the observations they make from the older children.