In the early 1900s, Dr. Maria Montessori, an educator and the first female physician in Italy, created an educational method still practiced today. Starting with children with disabilities and then moving on to all children, she observed how children naturally absorb information and learn at different stages of their development. She built an education model with that in mind.
Dr. Montessori founded the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) in 1929 to support the increase of Montessori schools, teacher education programs and national organizations around the world. The institutions and programs carried out two principles that Dr. Montessori declared as foundational: the universal characteristics of each child and how each unique child is one of life’s most amazing expressions.
Achieving a Well-rounded Education
Teachers at Montessori schools don’t only teach the core academic subjects, like math, science and English. They also promote personal exploration and life skills, like cooking and cleaning.
According to research, Montessori students perform at or above the level of their non-Montessori peers. In one study, for example, elementary-aged Montessori students performed better on standardized tests of reading and math. Additionally, they expressed more concern for fairness and justice than similarly-aged students at a control school. The study found that older Montessori students wrote more creative essays, solved social problems in a more positive way and felt a greater sense of community than the control group.
What Does an Early Education Montessori Classroom Look Like?
Early education Montessori schools are not regimented and there is no set curriculum that must be performed in every classroom. Students in public Montessori schools are required to take state-mandated standardized tests, but subject matters are presented in an integrated manner. The American Montessori Society described one of these lessons:
While studying a map of Africa, for example, students may explore the art, history, and inventions of several African nations. This may lead them to examine ancient Egypt, including hieroglyphs and their place in the history of writing. The study of the pyramids, of course, is a natural bridge to geometry.
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The design of early education classrooms in Montessori schools is reflected in their integrative focus to education. While there are no set guidelines for Montessori classrooms, there are some common characteristics:
- Furniture is arranged to facilitate movement and activity.
- The room is organized, clean and un-cluttered.
- Furniture is in proportion to the children and their needs.
- Nature is incorporated in the classroom.
There are more than 4,000 Montessori schools in the United States, and nearly each one has a different classroom setup. Nevertheless, there are some fundamental elements to a Montessori classroom. Here are some of the most common elements:
Teacher as “Guide”
The role of the teacher in a Montessori classroom is fundamental to the education method. Teachers do very little teaching at the front of the class. Instead, they design their classrooms to entice students to learn. Teachers might direct their students to new lessons and challenges, but children interacting with their environment, which enables learning. Teachers interact with students primarily one-on-one or in small groups. The goal is to foster independence and natural curiosity.
First and foremost, Montessori classrooms should provide a comfortable environment in which students can learn. Clutter and excessive signage can overload students, so simple aesthetics are key. Muted colors are a staple of Montessori classroom design. Students help keep the classroom clean by performing chores such as sweeping the floors or wiping down the desks.
Low Shelves and Child-Sized Furniture
Montessori classrooms have low-lying shelves and child-sized stools, tables and chairs. Educational materials are in the children’s line-of-sight, which gives students the independence to choose activities.
Classroom Pets and Plants
Many of the lessons that Montessori education teaches are ones that promote self-care and caring for others. Many Montessori classrooms have one or more classroom pets and plants. The pets are typically small animals that can be contained to a tank or a cage. By helping take care of pets, students are able to appreciate and value life other than their own. Students develop compassion and respect for animals while learning about responsibility.
Though much of learning in an early education Montessori classroom is independently driven by the students, circle time is a group activity. Students sit in a circle for an equal view of each other and the person conducting the circle. The children practice active listening, respect for others and cooperation. Some schools, however, opt out of circle time entirely because it’s considered to be too teacher-led.
A Montessori class is composed of students whose ages typically span three years, and older students mentor younger classmates. Classroom sizes vary depending on age group. Ideally, children stay with the classmates and teacher for the entire cycle through the school, forging a stable community and deep bonds.
Montessori classrooms almost exclusively feature analog toys that are open-ended and invite curiosity, creativity, voluntary attention and problem solving. Blocks, puzzles, books and puppets are a few options. Toys are often rotated on and off the shelves and into storage to limit students from having too many options and encourage new learning. The toys can generally be divided into four types:
- Practical toys that emphasize life skills, like a lacing card that teaches how to lace shoes.
- Sensory toys that activate the five senses, like a water table where students can play with toys in the water.
- Language-based toys that teach reading, writing and speaking, like sandpaper letters that encourage students to trace the alphabet.
- Mathematic-based toys that manipulate numbers and shapes, like sorting beads to help students learn addition and subtraction in a hands-on way.
Teaching at a Montessori School
Working in a Montessori environment isn’t teaching in the traditional sense of the word. They observe and create an environment of calm, order and joy. One way to think about it is by seeing the teacher, students and learning environment creating points of a triangle. Each point carries equal significance.
Every classroom must have at least one teacher trained in Montessori education for the school to be certified by the AMI, and you could be that teacher. Further your education and learn the methods, values and ethics of the Montessori method in the fully online M.Ed. Montessori Teacher Education from Campbellsville University. Our degree is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) and prepares candidates innovate and inspire in their Montessori classroom.