We are all familiar with Montessori for our pre-school children but how many of us consider the Montessori method as an alternative after pre-school? Montessori is an educational approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori (1870-1952). Since its creation, the method has flourished in many countries with 20,000 schools worldwide, serving children from birth to eighteen years old. Here in Ireland, Montessori schooling fully embraces the new Primary School curriculum and is small but growing. St. Nicholas Montessori School offers the options from pre-school up to age 12.
So how does Montessori compare to mainstream and what are the benefits?
Parents, who have had the opportunity to compare with mainstream primary education, say that where mainstream works well with about 80% of pupils, Montessori allows each child to develop in their own time and at their own pace. The other 20%, held back to keep pace with the rest of the class, or given additional resource teaching to keep up with the class are freed to learn at a rate that suits them as individuals. There is no need for grading and comparison with other children. There is less regimentation as children are permitted to move around the classroom as they complete their tasks, and as they have assigned their own tasks, they are more likely to feel the need to complete them. Self-motivation, independence and creativity are very much encouraged and given rein to develop naturally.
“Inside a Montessori classroom, children are laying a foundation for a lifetime of self-fulfilment. They are learning to choose a project, work on it to completion, and reap the internal reward that comes with newfound knowledge and job well don; they are learning to control the entire creative, planning, productive, and evaluative processes from start to finish.”
Author: Montessori Madness! – A Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education
The traditional Montessori classes are grouped by age, with age 3-6 in the first group, age 6-9 in the second, and 9-12 in the third. The Montessori teacher’s training focuses on individual growth and development. Observation is a key skill. Through careful observation, the Montessori teacher follows the individual interests and needs of each child, providing lessons and guidance when necessary. This is important for the teacher and pupil so that materials and activities can be used to meet each child’s developmental needs as part of his/her learning plan. The Montessori teacher’s role in the classroom is to maintain an inspiring learning environment to encourage the child to work in a self-motivated manner. There is no need for a blackboard or central desk for the teacher, as the teacher is constantly moving around the classroom working with individuals or small groups of children. However, there is also an emphasis on group project work, so that the children also learn how to work in teams.
The Montessori Classroom is a carefully prepared environment designed to reinforce the child’s independence and natural urge toward self-development. There is a wide range of Montessori materials, activities and experiences that are designed to foster physical, intellectual, creative and social independence. Each piece of material has a specific purpose and is presented in a manner that will enable the child to direct his / her own learning. Classrooms for ages 6-12 are usually referred to as Elementary, and can range in size from very small up to 30 children (although in the majority of Irish Montessori schools the classes tend to be small), typically staffed by a trained teacher and one or more assistants. Classes usually serve mixed-age six- to nine-year old and nine to twelve year old groupings. Lessons are typically presented to small groups of children, who are then free to follow up with independent work of their own as interest and personal responsibility dictate. The scope of lessons and work in the Elementary classroom is quite broad, but fully embraces the Primary School curriculum 1999. The use of Montessori materials gives a three dimensional effect to the learning experience, and makes subjects like mathematics much more practical and interesting.