Why Montessori

This is one of the most frequently asked questions by most parents that reach out to us. Most of them have heard the term Montessori in a loose context, but don’t have a good understanding about it. The oft repeated observation is that “We know it’s different and that children are free to learn at their pace but we would like to know more”. The one aspect that baffles parents most is that, at any given time, each child is immersed in his/her own activity and yet the classroom is functioning at more than an optimal pace! Most adults cannot fathom the fact that, despite such a lack of structure in a preschool environment, our environments are so peaceful! If you are one such parent who is curious to know more, please read on. We would like to show you the magic of Montessori when done right. It’s the most beautiful gift that one can give their child. This section will showcase the salient features of the pedagogy and its historical context, while helping you identify an authentically run Montessori school.

"We discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being."

Montessori history

"We teachers can only help the work going on, as servants wait upon a master."

The Montessori pedagogy was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first lady physician in Italy. As a doctor, Dr. Montessori chose paediatrics and psychiatry as her specialties. Here she noticed that all children, irrespective of their socio- economic status, are born with an innate eagerness to learn and explore and, given the right environment, they will blossom to their fullest potential. She opened the first Montessori school in the slums of Rome, called Casa Dei Bambini, on January 6 1907. Today, there are more than 22,000 Montessori schools in 110 countries around the world. These slum children excelled at reading and writing, and many influential people were drawn towards this phenomenon. The word quickly spread amongst many educators all over Europe and North America, and many dignitaries visited to see this in action. Once World War II began, Dr. Montessori was forced to flee to India, where she developed a program called Education for Peace. Her work with the program earned her two Nobel Peace Prize nominations. Sixteen courses were conducted during this time, creating a very strong base for the method here. The Montessori pedagogy is probably the only constructivist progressive educational system based on scientific observation of children from birth to adulthood, across three continents. It has been developed over 50 years via careful observation and refined to suit the children’s needs globally. It aims at raising an inwardly free individual who is truly aware of his/her own self, and is free from social conditioning and inner conflict. The aim of true education should be to rid the child of all the impediments to its innate eagerness to learn, teach him/her to respect the outer laws and thus become an integral part of the society
For those who would like to know more about the pedagogy here is a list of recommended reading:

  • The science behind the Genius by Dr Angeline Stoll Lillard
  • Montessori Madness by Trevor Eissler
  • The secret of childhood by Dr Montessori

Montessori method

The challenge that most parents face today is to choose between “progressive schools” and “traditional schools”. “progressive schools” do inquiry or project based learning. They have a strong focus on playful learning, which are meant to engage and empower the child and work largely on enhancing the soft skills of the students. These schools often lack a clear and structured path, but deliver meaningful and relevant education to the child when it is developmentally appropriate. This sort of teaching requires many years of experience in the teacher and most schools tend to lack in this. “traditional schools” are heavily focused on content delivery and academic rigor. There is no interest in personalising the content to the child’s individual capacity and children are mostly treated as a part of an assembly line. The children never develop a love of learning and are assessed purely on standardized tests, which have no relevance to the child’s capabilities. There is no internal motivation and children are incentivised either by rewards (stickers, ranks etc.) or the need to escape punishments. Montessori education, on the other hand, offers an alternative to these two approaches. It not only combines the best aspects of these two approaches but also enhances the experience for the child. This pedagogy is a developmentally appropriate method based on scientific reasoning, which appeals to every child in its natural state. Montessori’s view on education is very simply put as “Follow the child” and the child will reveal his/her readiness for the activity. The approach looks at the child in a holistic way and urges on development of the child physically, cognitively, socially, emotionally and spiritually. The goal is to raise a generation of inspirational thinkers who are caring and conscious community helpers. How does the Montessori method achieve this lofty aim? The following are the characteristics one needs to look for while deciding whether a program is authentically Montessori.

"The only language men ever speak perfectly is the one they learn in babyhood, when no one can teach them anything!"

Independence is one of the most important goals for any authentic Montessori educator. In devising this method of education, Dr. Montessori only wanted to assist the child’s natural development; not to cripple his/her growth with “help” but to merely assist growth with educational aids. Such aids should also be of the nature that they foster independence and self- sufficiency, which are abundantly available in any true Montessori environment. Independence is a skill that needs to be developed like any other skill and is achieved through work. It should be practiced religiously till it is mastered. The role of the adult is to create an environment that helps foster this independence. Thus, a good Montessori class will have ample opportunities to display independence.
Montessori was a pioneer in her days to advocate the benefits of mixed age groups of children in a classroom. Traditionally, schools divide the children by age and bucket them into one learning program. Whereas, in an authentic Montessori classroom, children stay in the same classroom from 18 months to 3 years, 3 to 6 years, 6 to 9 years and 9 to 12 years. In Traditional schools, the teacher has to establish the classroom culture from scratch, whereas in a mixed age class the older children don the hats of role models and the younger / newer peers quickly learn by observation.
A Montessori class mimics the real world. Like the world where we interact with people of all ages, so do the children in a true Montessori environment. This has many benefits.
Our children all get a chance to be a leader within the classroom.
The younger child enjoys being helped by an older peer who, in turn, loves being the mentor. This same younger child, who was in awe of the older child, then starts to develop confidence and is the middle year child who then slowly becomes the confident third year child who everyone now looks up to.
The children get many opportunities to display leadership and enhance their social emotional quotient.
It is one of the greatest joys to see such collaboration among varied age children where one child is helping another child tie his lace or helping with scissor cutting of the plant stem for flower arrangement.
Children learn better from peers and observation
than from an adult. In a Montessori environment, children are motivated and encouraged to watch their peers at work. This positively reinforces learning and it benefits both children. Many younger children are often drawn towards the older child’s work and intently observe the older child. They can’t wait to start using the “big works” and this induces a love of learning in a natural state as opposed to rote learning.
This concept of uninterrupted work cycle is at the heart of every true Montessori classroom. This is one of the main distinguishing features of a Montessori school vs other progressive and traditional schools. Dr Montessori observed that children, when given the time to independently explore the environment in an uninterrupted fashion, actually go deep into concentration and focus on the task. This is a ground-breaking observation especially because all schools, be it alternative or traditional, make the children rush from activity to activity. This leads to many interruptions and, sadly, true focus and concentration never develops in the child. Concentration and focus takes time to develop in a child and it cannot be run on the agenda of the adult. In our school, children are free to pick their activity and work with it for as long as they like to and, when the child is finished, they are encouraged to put it back from where they procured the material. There is no rush to go to the next subject or period. This truly develops responsibility and concentration in the child. Imagine if we adults are rushed and asked to finish the given task in a fixed amount of time. Would we be doing justice to the task? In authentic Montessori schools, all the materials are always available to all the children. It is not uncommon to see one child working on four-digit addition, while one child is painting on the easel and the other is slicing cucumbers. This autonomy in work ignites in them a love for learning and also teaches them utmost responsibility. Each child prepares the entire activity on their own and replaces everything as is for the next child to use.
The prepared environment is a huge tool to help in this process of independence. The materials in the classroom are all self-correcting and didactic by nature and their inbuilt control of error allows the child to repeatedly perfect a work till satisfaction is achieved. A large part of the learning happens between the materials and the children themselves. The main characteristics in a prepared environment are freedom, structure and orderliness, beauty and aesthetics, being connected with nature and being real, the Montessori materials, and the formation of community within the classroom. The environment does not merely include the furnishings and the materials but the adults and the children as well that spend their day there. The teacher, the child and the environment are thus a part of a triangle that constantly feed into each other.
The altered role of the adult in Montessori is to be present in the child’s life, physically, mentally, and emotionally to aid in its development. The adult (teacher and parent) needs to be fully aware and conscious of the child’s needs at its appropriate development stage. The child’s first environment is the home and thus, the partnership between the teacher and the caregivers at home needs to be strong. If they are in sync then one can successfully be the necessary aids in the child’s life. The role of the teacher in a good Montessori school has much less to do with instruction and more to do with keen observation. It is through observation that the adult can realize the needs of the individual child at that moment and make the environment prepared for that need. The role of an adult is a drastic shift from that of a traditional adult (provide instruction to seated children who are expected to assimilate the information being doled out to them). It is very important that the adult be aware of the sensitive phases of the child and not interrupt a child that is engaged in work. Montessori teachers are trained for a whole year in a rigorous method where one of the primary goals is to learn to “observe” the child. We, at Anthea Montessori, aim at having either an AMI or AMS trained teachers for our classrooms. We try and actively recruit the best teachers that graduate from MTRT Hyderabad and other AMI affiliated institutions in India. These institutions offer Montessori teacher training of a high standard, helping graduates integrate theory and practice. The training is a very rigorous period; not everyone who enrols, receives a diploma. AMI or AMS training gives us the assurance that the teacher has had adequate training in the basic tenets of the pedagogy and has the knowledge base and grit to be a good teacher. Over and above that, we ensure that the candidate is a right fit for our school’s culture, which is steeped in great interpersonal skills and being a warm and cheerful adult in the child’s life. We even regularly sponsor our support staff to the training courses offered by MTRT so that every adult interacting with the child is on the same page. We regularly conduct in house professional development sessions where each classroom reviews its current practices and make the appropriate changes if required.