Philosophy - Why Montessori?
Not long after Maria Montessori opened her first primary age classroom (termed "Casa dei bambini" or Children's Houses) in Rome in 1907, educators, scientists, and dignitaries from around the world came to witness the "miracles" rumored to be taking place there. Young children in her classrooms were being transformed in astonishing ways.
For forty years, Wellesley Montessori School has helped children achieve similar transformations. We faithfully follow the path Montessori laid out for others to continue her amazing work. In our carefully prepared Children's Houses, students from 2.9 through 6 years of age are stimulated and inspired by the beautifully ingenious materials and meaningful activities that Montessori developed. Again and again we witness consistent astounding results in children's attainment of cognitive, emotional and social maturity.
While some of you may be well-read on the concepts of Montessori, we understand that others may be less familiar. This page offers answers to commonly asked questions. Because our classrooms and teachers strive to adhere closely to this philosophy, we are also happy to answer questions you may have that are not addressed here.
What are the benefits and goals of Montessori education?
Through scientific methods, Maria Montessori sought to understand the means that led to healthy child development. Her insights informed her design of optimal learning environments to facilitate that process. Children in Montessori schools consistently grow into people who are independent, responsible, confident, respectful of others, and capable of sustained concentration. This growth occurs primarily due to the freedom to pursue activities meaningful to them at different “sensitive periods” for acquiring skills and concepts. The fulfillment gained from this “work” of the child leads to satisfaction, self-confidence, and inner peace. We experience similar results as adults but usually with greater effort. These traits and habits, once established in early childhood, provide the greatest start for a lifetime of success, happiness, and compassion for others.
Montessori lived through two horrific world wars. She understood that a genuinely peaceful world can only result from generations of healthier human beings. She often referred to her work in such terms as “education for peace” and “aid to life”. Her vision is one of authentic individual freedom and happiness in a compassionate world.
How does the freedom to choose work help my child develop?
Have you ever seen your child scrub the same wall in the tub night after night, or fold his napkin just so? Once a child is interested in attempting to zip her own coat or pour her own milk she will not stop until she either feels she has mastered it, or until someone tells her otherwise. This guiding force within each child is obvious to, and has likely frustrated, many a parent! It’s time to get in the car, but no, wait! The shoe must be tied, the door must be closed and locked just so, the bag must be zipped, but not that way! This way!
Attention to detail coupled with a fierce determination to achieve tasks chosen by the child was one of countless observations made by Dr. Montessori when she was developing her teaching methods. She concluded, after years of careful research, that children are much more likely to complete, and derive joy from, tasks they have chosen themselves. The act of choosing inspires a desire to follow through, to perfect, and to repeat tasks until the child feels an inner satisfaction. Through this process, a child will see himself as an important contributor, capable of completing tasks and growing into an autonomous individual. When a child is exposed and encouraged to engage activities to which she is receptive at a particular age, she develops self confidence, a sense of order, and organization. When this happens, the child’s mind is ready and receptive to the next step. The Montessori teacher is trained to carefully encourage such activity, being careful not to inadvertently thwart it. The classroom is a microcosm of the larger world in which independence is promoted at every turn.This is the basis of fundamental individual strength in negotiating the world as a secure and confident being.
Why is movement important to learning?
In order for the child to act upon his environment, he must be mobile. Movement, then, is a key component of the Montessori classroom. Movement is the synthesis of brain and muscle messages. Through movement, cognitive development occurs with more rapidity and more connection. When children can manipulate objects that represent real concepts, they are much more likely to internalize those concepts. For example, if a child lays out a series of five bead bars in sequence, she is going to understand what five taken three times literally means. If a child learns her times tables in a traditional setting, the lack of concrete materials associated with numbers, leads only to memorizing numbers/symbols as abstractions. The movement and manipulation of the materials leads to the fullest understanding of concepts. Dr. Montessori placed this observation as central to the creation of the environment geared to meet the needs of the very youngest child in the Casa, to the six year old.
Movement also requires practice for perfection. Therefore, materials in the classroom allow for repetition of exercise. This refers not only to the repetitive movement, but also to the resulting internalization within the cognitive mind. It is through this kind of repetitive exercise that the child of three to six years will have the opportunity to master her environment, and reach a peaceful satisfaction in her work. Without movement, without physical connection to the environment, without the opportunity to develop cognitive and physical simultaneously, the child is cut off from her own tools for auto-education and complete understanding.
I see the same materials in all the classrooms - why is that?
The environment is created with the child’s eye in mind. Montessori developed her materials over the course of many years. All materials are placed with intention, and each material is a building block for a larger concept. The Pink Tower, for example, promotes discrimination of dimension, and introduces the concept of "greater than, less than." These ten blocks are each one cubic centimeter greater than the last. This material in the Sensorial area of the classroom, is a preparatory work for math and geometry. Many materials, including this one, are self-correcting. This means that there is less need for an adult to interfere with the concentration of the child. When the work is complete, the child feels that he owns the accomplishment. With this ownership comes an autonomy and sense of pride, and the child will choose the work again, and will be eager to move on when he is ready.
The materials are uniquely designed for essential experience and self-control. They are proven effective again and again in schools throughout the world and in every culture. Children are attracted to activities out of inherent needs for certain experiences through which their inner sense of order is established, along with mastery of their environment. Through experimentation and refinement Montessori developed these tools for the child. Many non-Montessori manufacturers have copied her designs in recognition of their value.
Montessori formulated her method 100 years ago. What about more contemporary discoveries of how children learn and develop?
Brain research has proven that movement/manipulation of objects while absorbing abstract concepts leads to the fullest learning. The two sides of the brain (roughly equivalent to abstract and concrete) are stimulated equally. This can be seen especially in mathematics and geometry development. A common result of only one-sided experience is math phobia. This understanding is just one facet of education of the “whole” child, a psycho-motor synthesis that corresponds to the social and emotional development of the individual. When children work in every area of the classroom: language, practical life, sensorial, cultural, etc. the hands-on activities stimulate both lobes of the brain. People learn best by doing. The number of Montessori schools throughout the world (currently around 25,000) is continually increasing because the method is based upon the natural manner in which humans learn best.
These are timeless realities despite the outer changes to the world. It is interesting how “new advances” in early childhood education so often mimic the Montessori approach.