Our Philosophy

The Montessori philosophy is more than the materials in the classroom, or the teacher giving lessons. It is an attitude toward children, a way of understanding their unique nature and allowing them to grow and develop to their fullest potential.

fun on the playgroundAlthough Dr. Maria Montessori is best known as an educator, she was a medical pioneer as well, becoming, in 1896, the first woman doctor in Italy. She began her work with children in insane asylums and in the slums of Rome, but soon came to believe that the educational principles she was developing applied to all children. She opened the first "Casa dei Bambini" or "Children's House" in 1907 in San Lorenzo, Italy. Her revolutionary ideas spread quickly, and training centers opened throughout the world. The Montessori Method came to the United States in 1912, but grew slowly at first. However, rapid growth began in the early 1950s, largely through the efforts of Nancy McCormick Rambusch, an early childhood educator and founder of the American Montessori Society, who was moved by an increasing concern over the quality of American education.

The Child

Like many other educational philosophers, Dr. Montessori believed that human beings pass through stages in their development. She called the first stage of life, from birth to six years, the stage of the absorbent mind. This is when children literally absorb impressions from their environment through the “pores” of all their senses as a sponge absorbs water. During this period, for example, children learn their mother tongue far more easily than an adult who struggles to learn a foreign language. The opportunities available in the environment will, therefore, be a major factor in determining the child’s intellect.

Dr. Montessori believed that during these early years of development, the child passes through sensitive periods, or times when he becomes attuned to acquiring particular knowledge or skills. He will work on gaining that knowledge or skill with an interest and concentration he can never again display for that particular kind of work. Because the child learns more easily during these sensitive periods, Dr. Montessori developed specific didactic (learning) materials designed to correspond to these sensitive periods and to meet their needs. We all know well the 3-year-old’s desire for order in his environment and need for a daily routine. This is his sensitive period for order manifesting itself.

children working in the classroomRecent advances in child development have taught us the importance of respecting each child as an individual. Respect for the child was key to Dr. Montessori’s philosophy a century ago and still is today. She advocated respect for the child’s individuality by allowing freedom of choice of activity within a specially prepared environment, a natural and beautiful environment created to suit the nature of the child. The prepared environment allows each child the freedom to learn and develop at his own pace, according to his own capacities. Since the child chooses his own work, he is never pushed into something he is not ready for, or bored by something too elementary for him. In our classroom, we attempt to create a non-competitive environment where the child feels at home and can work according to his own tempo and unique nature. The teacher prepares the environment to meet the specific and ever-changing needs of the children in it. We respect the child’s inner rhythm when we allow repetition of activities and give him the time to work at his own pace. Only the child knows when he has satisfied his need for that activity, or has absorbed it. When we “follow the child,” as Dr. Montessori urged, we have the best chance of nurturing the child’s natural curiosity and love for knowledge.

Independence is another cornerstone in a Montessori classroom. Independence is encouraged at every turn, whether it is putting on one’s own coat, choosing one’s own work, or cleaning up after oneself at the snack table. Each small step towards independence builds confidence, self-esteem, and a positive self-concept.

The Environment

Dr. Montessori believed that learning is accomplished by the individual himself. The child learns by means of the materials and his own active experience with them. He also learns from others in the environment. Each Montessori classroom has an age range of three years, which allows older children to teach the younger ones and provides the younger ones with a model for future learning. The teacher prepares the environment and gives the child lessons on how the materials are used, guiding the child through a progression of the activities in each curriculum area of the environment. Given the necessary minimum of stimulating interest in the materials, the child begins to manipulate, discover, and learn for himself.

the classroom

Exposure to the physically and mentally prepared environment causes a balancing of behavior to develop. As the child becomes absorbed in meaningful work that he chooses himself and which thus meets his needs, he works with continued concentration and inner satisfaction. When we see this in a single child, we call it inner discipline. When we see it in a whole classroom, we call it normalization. It is truly impressive to see children working together peacefully, helping each other, sharing and caring for one another.

“The hand is the chief teacher of the child,” said Dr. Montessori. Montessori classrooms are the epitome of the “hands on” experience for the child. Children learn best by doing, and Dr. Montessori’s didactic materials are designed to achieve sensory, motor, and intellectual development through a graduated system of learning in which children master simple, concrete concepts before progressing to the abstract. This can be seen in the classroom in several ways. Within the curriculum areas of the environment, children begin in the concrete areas of practical life and sensorial, and progress to the more abstract areas of math and language; within each curriculum area of the classroom, the children begin with the most simple lessons, and progress to the most difficult; and for each piece of material, there often is a simple and a more complex version of use. Many of the materials isolate one fundamental quality, such as color or dimension, so that the child learns to discriminate individual qualities in an object. Many of the materials are self-correcting, which provides the child with a control of error so they see their mistakes and are able to correct them without being afraid of making a mistake. Many of the materials are for self-discovery and do not require a lesson from the teacher; this encourages children to become independent of adults in seeking knowledge. Children have the freedom to choose and repeat any lesson they have been given, which allows them to satisfy their own desire to learn.

The Teacher

circle timeThe role of the teacher (or directress, as Dr. Montessori called her) in the classroom is manifold. Her most important job is to foster a kind of learning that satisfies the child’s need to learn for its own sake, not to please others or receive praise. She is trained to observe carefully, to know the different needs of her children and to provide a properly prepared environment for the children’s maximum growth. She demonstrates the correct use of the materials, and guides without interfering with the child’s experience. She ensures that each child progresses through the activities of each curriculum area in the classroom. She sets limits, encourages the hesitant child, diverts the child that has chosen work too difficult, and keeps enthusiasm alive. She is there when needed, but “invisible” when not needed. In other words, she follows the child.

Dr. Montessori believed that learning is individual -- each child is encouraged to learn for himself -- and that children are motivated to learn by a natural curiosity and a love for knowledge. Therefore, early childhood education should cultivate the child’s own natural desire to learn -- to teach him how to learn. The Montessori Method develops a lifelong love of learning in every child.