Montessori (pronounced MON-tuh-SORE-ee) is a comprehensive educational approach from birth to adulthood based on the observation of children's needs in a variety of cultures all around the world.
Beginning her work almost a century ago, Dr. Maria Montessori developed this educational approach based on her understanding of children's natural learning tendencies as they unfold in “prepared environments” for multi-age groups.
The Montessori environment contains specially designed, manipulative “materials for development” that invite children to engage in learning activities of their own individual choice. Under the guidance of a trained teacher, children in a Montessori classroom learn by making discoveries with the materials, cultivating concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning.
Today, Montessori schools are found worldwide, serving children from birth through adolescence.
Montessori education is fundamentally a model of human development, and an educational approach based on that model. The model has two basic principles. First, children and developing adults engage in psychological self-construction by means of interaction with their environments. Second, children, especially under the age of six, have an innate path of psychological development. Based on her observations, Montessori believed that children at liberty to choose and act freely within an environment prepared according to her model would act spontaneously for optimal development.
Montessori saw universal, innate characteristics in human psychology which her son and collaborator Mario Montessori identified as “human tendencies” in 1957. There is some debate about the exact list, but the following are clearly identified:
In the Montessori approach, these human tendencies are seen as driving behavior in every stage of development, and education should respond to and facilitate their expression.
Montessori's education method called for free activity within a “prepared environment”, meaning an educational environment tailored to basic human characteristics, to the specific characteristics of children at different ages, and to the individual personalities of each child. The function of the environment is to help and allow the child to develop independence in all areas according to his or her inner psychological directives. In addition to offering access to the Montessori materials appropriate to the age of the children, the environment should exhibit the following characteristics:
- An arrangement that facilitates movement and activity
- Beauty and harmony, cleanliness of environment
- Construction in proportion to the child and his/her needs
- Limitation of materials, so that only material that supports the child's development is included
- Nature in the classroom and outside of the classroom