In the beginning of the twentieth century, Dr. Maria Montessori, a young Italian doctor, developed a new educational method- an approach based on observing the child’s natural development. She emphasized that education should go beyond the mere acquisition of knowledge, and instead be an aid to life. She believed that the child’s physical, social, emotional, spiritual and intellectual development were interrelated. The development of the human mind doesn’t happen through knowledge that is taught, but instead constructed by the child from its inner directives.
There are two key components to the Montessori approach. The first is a prepared environment, or classroom, which includes all the Montessori materials and excercises.
This is an environment where each child’s individual needs are met. It is a place where the child’s needs for self construction are encouraged, and where they can reveal their own personality and growth patterns. Dr. Maria Montessori said this of the environment and the child: “He grows because the potential for life within him develops, making itself visible”.
The second component is the specifically trained Montessori Directress or Director, who prepares and maintains the environment. This person is the link between the child and the prepared environment. At the Montessori Children’s House of Hyde Park, all Directresses and Directors are trained through the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI). This is the organization created to protect Dr. Montessori’s work in its true form. The highest industry standards are required to maintain this yearly accreditation.
Another fundamental approach to the Montessori philosophy is the multi-age classroom. All classrooms include children of three age levels. Multiple ages in a classroom enable the child to experience social skills necessary for life. They learn to take direction from their peers, and to mentor and become leaders as they get older.
Montessori’s first class was known as the “Casa de Bambini”, or the Children’s House, for three to six year olds. In the United States, we call this a primary class. She observed that children developed in stages, and designed the classrooms accordingly. At the Montessori Children’s House, children start in our primary class at age three, and stay with the same Directress or Director until age six. The junior elementary has children ages six to nine. The senior elementary has children who are ages nine to twelve. At each of these stages of development, children learn differently and have very different social and developmental needs. Therefore, the approach towards education at each level is adapted to fit the child’s changing needs.
The Montessori approach to education helps the children develop to their fullest extent possible. Their potential for creativity, initiative, independence, inner discipline and self confidence are encouraged. The children learn to be responsible for working and making appropriate choices. Throughout the Montessori years, the children not only become well educated, but develop a genuine joy for learning that will be a part of them for life.