The name “Montessori” is after Maria Montessori, an Italian lady who was born in 1870. From what I’ve read, she seems to be a Jill-of-all-trades; her excellence at Physics and Math drew her to pursue an Engineering degree, halfway through, she decided medicine would be her preferred choice – and when she graduated she became Italy’s first ever lady doctor.
Her early work in anthropology, philosophy and psychology lead to an interest in human development and education – and when she discovered children, especially ones with special needs, seemed to respond well to her methods, she devoted most of her life to the study of early childhood education.
Her theories and the materials used are amazing – I find it hard to believe that all those ideas came from one person. Her ideas and material are still used today – most are still applicable although times have changed a great deal.
The material that the children work with are immaculately designed, and simply beckon to the child to try it out, once it is demonstated by the teacher. The amount of information learnt by a child through material exploration is phenomenal, but the beauty of it all is that the child does not realize he is learning, he learns through play and repeated activity cycles with the material, learning something new each time.
When a child first enters a Montessori nursery at 2 ½ , he is taught how to perform everyday tasks, like pouring water, folding, dressing himself (handling buttons, zips, buckles, and even laces!), using cutlery, tongs, a blunt knife. They also learn to walk along a straight line, hop, skip and jump. These activities build confidence, improve dexterity, hand-eye coordination and well as balance and poise.
“Practical Life” activity (as these are called) is every much as important as other, more academic subjects. They not only help the child take his place in his family as a “chore-helping” member, but working with practical life material in class seems to serve as a “de-stresser” or a winding down activity after a long period of academic activity.
Each child works at their own pace, there is no rush to catch up with anyone/anything, making the environment pressure free and relaxed. For this reason, children are not segregated by age, they simply move around comfortably in the work area, choosing to work with material on the floor or sitting at a table. This kind of classroom a vertical grouped class which means children of all ages are in the same area.
The teacher directs each child’s activity, leaving him to explore the material for himself after a simple demonstration, but making sure he has mastered each type of activity and understands the concept to be learnt by it before he moves on to the next activity. This method is used for each subject; math, language, etc. Each day, the child works with a piece of material for each subject, moving on only when he is ready.
A child usually leaves a Montessori kindergarten with a strong foundation in all subjects especially reading and maths. The syllabus is extensive. The child gets an insight to world and continent maps, & different land forms in Geography. The evolution of the species in History. The different classification of animals, life cycles, parts of the body in Zoology. Leaves, plants, trees, parts of flowers, photosynthesis in Botany. To add, subtract, multiply and divide large numbers up to thousands in Maths. And even get a glimpse of binomial and trinomial equation theories.
All this - effortlessly, AND with the child’s full cooperation.
This article first appeared in Bonda Magazine April 2002 and was written by Jelita Rubina Kayani
Montessori in Malaysia
In Malaysia, unfortunately, there is no governing body for Montessori schools as there are in the US and UK. We see many kindergartens mushrooming up all over town with signboards declaring that they are “Montessori” schools, when in actual fact probably only 2 in 10 actually are.
As for the rest of them, they probably call themselves that because either the principal or some of the teachers is montessori trained, or because they sport several pieces of Montessori material on their shelves.
There are certain criterion for a school to be truly Montessori. First, there are no classrooms; just several large work areas with lots of floor space and some tables and chairs.
Teachers (or directresses, as they are called) are trained in the Montessori theory and should know how to use each and every piece of apparatus. There should be not more than 10 children to a teacher. Children are not segregated by age groups, they are segregated by choice of what material they are working with at the time.
Learning by rote, memorising & chanting is unheard of, and teaching on the board is almost not used at all. Children are never forced into learning something, instead, the teacher makes the demonstration of the apparatus look so interesting and appealing that the child will not be able to stop himself from wanting to explore it. Each child works at his own pace, only moves on once he has mastered whatever he was exploring previously.
If you desire a Montessori school for your child, visit the school at least once with your child, and try asking if you and your child can observe for a day. Watch how classes are conducted, and enroll only if both you and your child are happy.
If your child's attention is held (even for a short while) when the teacher talks and sings; if he is enticed watching other children playing with the material, and readily leaves your side to have a go at it, then the school is probably right for you. If he clings to you, but is still interested in the activity he sees, he probably needs more settling in time – try leaving him for half an hour at first, increasing the time by fifteen minutes everyday, until he eventually stays for the whole session.
Many parents worry that their child will not be able to cope with the rigid primary school system here, after having so much freedom in choice of activity and work pace. To be honest, children adapt to change much better than adults. They assimilate themselves easily to any environment, and most of the time, their anxieties come from the vibes emanated by their parents. So, relax and your child will relax too.
Ultimately, whatever choice of early education you pick for your child, you need to remember that you are still the most important person in his little world. The best teachers will not be able to work wonders on your child if you do not exclaim over his drawings once in a while, or let him teach you a song he learnt at school.
Protection of the "best" in each child through respect of choice and concentration
The teachers know how to offer work, to link the child to the environment who is the real teacher, and to protect this process. We know now that this natural goodness and compassion are inborn, and do not need to be taught, but to be protected
Q. How will my child cope when they go to Year1 and there is no more freedom and the system is more rigid? Will he be able to cope transitioning from the Montessori system to our Malaysian school system?A. I will start off answering this question by stating that CHILDREN ARE VERY ADAPTABLE. Most of the time, it is the adults who have a problem with change, the children just sail through it. Of course, there is some adjustment required when moving from a Montessori school. At our school there is a lot of choice of materials to use, the children are allowed to express their opinions freely. They are unafraid to speak their mind, and ask questions, no matter how silly. They are also allowed to be quite familiar with the teachers, hugs and cuddles being quite a normal occurence. Leaving can be a culture shock to many of the children. However this is an adjustment which they must make, when they leave home - we view it such: if they have to make that adjustment at age 3, (leaving home and ebetering a very rigid and "prepare-you-for-std1" type of kindergaten; when they do not really undertstand and they spend their days crying and hating school, we would rather they make that adjustment when they are 6 and better able to comprehend and make that adjustment. Those 3 years of loving school and forming a very positive attitude towards learning can do wonders towards their lifelong learning.
Q. Are Montessori children successful later in life?A. Research studies show that Montessori children are well prepared for later life academically, socially, and emotionally. In addition to scoring well on standardized tests, Montessori children are ranked above average on such criteria as following directions, turning in work on time, listening attentively, using basic skills, showing responsibility, asking provocative questions, showing enthusiasm for learning, and adapting to new situations.
Q. What ages does Montessori serve?A. There are more Montessori programs for ages 3-6 than for any other age group, but Montessori is not limited to early childhood. Many infant/toddler programs (ages 2 months to 3 years) exist, as well as elementary (ages 6-12), adolescent (ages 12-15) and even a few Montessori high schools. In Malaysia, children who attend MOntessori Kindergartens typically are between 2.5 to 6 years old
Q. What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?A. Montessori emphasizes learning through all five senses, not just through listening, watching, or reading. Children in Montessori classes learn at their own, individual pace and according to their own choice of activities from hundreds of possibilities. Learning is an exciting process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning. Montessori classes place children in three-year age groups (3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and so on), forming communities in which the older children spontaneously share their knowledge with the younger ones. Montessori represents an entirely different approach to education. In Malaysia, only the 3-6 yr age group exists as older children are expected to join primary school.
Q. Is Montessori good for children with learning disabilities? What about gifted children?A. Montessori is designed to help all children reach their fullest potential at their own unique pace. A classroom whose children have varying abilities is a community in which everyone learns from one another and everyone contributes. Moreover, multi-age grouping allows each child to find his or her own pace without feeling "ahead" or "behind" in relation to peers.
Q. Why is my daughter reading and my son not?A. Children all learn at their own pace. It is unfair for us to copare children, even children from the same family. However there is a general (unwritten) rule to gadge the children's speed and maturity in learning. Generally, girls mature earlioer than boys, and therefore are able to grasp more complex ideas at a younger age. Children who are the eldest or an only child, generally do not develop adapatation skills and do not socialise woth peers - somehow, this also seems to affect their learning ability for the first few years.... we notice that second, third and subsequent children seem to pick up new ideas very quickly and are more independent learners. This, however doesnt affect later learning, as the boys generally catch up with the girls by the time they hit puberty.
Q. I recently observed a Montessori classroom for a day. I was very impressed, but i have three questions: 1. There doesn't seem to be any opportunities for pretend play 2. The materials don't seem to allow children to be creative 3. Children don't seem to be interacting with another very much. Any help you give me would be appreciated. Thank you very much.A. I can give you three very incomplete answers to your perceptive questions: (1) When Dr. Montessori opened the first Children's House it was full of pretend play things. The children never played with them as long as they were allowed to do real things - i.e. cooking instead of pretending to cook. It is still true. (2) The materials teach specific things and then the creativity is incredible. Like learning how to handle a good violin and then playing music. It is not considered "creative" to use a violin as a hammer, or a bridge while playing with blocks. We consider it "creative" to learn how to use the violin properly and then create music. The same goes for the materials in a Montessori classroom. (3) There is as much interaction as the children desire, but the tasks are so satisfying that, for these few hours a day, children want to master the challenges offered by them. Then they become happier and kinder—true socialization. Also, since concentration is protected above all, as all "work" is respected, children learn early on not to interrupt someone who is concentrating.
Reference from http://www.michaelolaf.net, THE MONTESSORI METHOD.