Dr. Maria Montessori was one of the first female doctors in Italy, where she was born in the late 1800s. Through her medical and scientific work, she began to develop a method of education for young children. It was a method for the whole child, not just their mind or academic work but, as she put it, “an education for life.”
Her method goes far beyond academic knowledge—it focuses on the care of self, others, and the environment. It also focuses on respect and peace, for both the child and others. The Montessori method is a child-led education. This makes it different from most traditional education, which tells the child what they should be learning. Instead, Montessori education meets the child wherever he or she is.
Here are five principles at the core of Montessori education:
1. A prepared environment. A prepared environment is one in which the child has what they need available for them to learn. This means not only thinking of this in a classroom setting but also in the environment in which the child is. If the child wanted to help with cooking, is there a step-stool available for them to reach the counters? Are plates and cups easily accessible? Anything that allows the child to be involved and be a part of daily life is part of the Montessori prepared environment.
2. Hands on concrete learning. Dr. Montessori spoke time and time again about the relationship of movement and learning. A child needs to move to learn—we see this clearly in babies and toddlers who use movement as a means to learn. But for a school-aged child, this is also true. For example, a worksheet could ask, “What is heavier, an apple or a watermelon?” But to truly understand these concepts, the child needs to touch and feel these objects. Having hands-on and concrete materials brings joy and satisfaction to learning for a child. This is the reason Dr. Montessori created the Montessori materials. They are materials designed to help bring abstract learning concepts to life because the child can hold and feel each material and manipulate it to learn.
3. Independence. Dr. Montessori noticed early on the strong desire children had to be independent—to do and accomplish things on their own. “Help me to help myself” is a constant phrase used in Montessori education. Independence isn’t something a child can be pushed to do—it is a constant journey of doing things alongside someone who can show a child how to do it until the child can and will want to do it for themselves. This can be difficult for some parents and caretakers. One reason we may not allow children to do things themselves is because of our own impatience to rush the process. Remember that children need time—they are working on skills for the first time that we’ve had decades to perfect. Trust in your child, and assist only when necessary.
4. Individual development + observation. Montessori education respects and understands that each child is in their own unique timeline, and we support the child where they are. We do this through observation. That means that we, as adults, need to take the time to observe where each child is at without bias and determine how to best support that child’s learning.
5. Respect. Dr. Montessori believed that each child, once they are born, should be respected and treated the way we would like to be treated ourselves. She believed that we shouldn’t see the child as less than, but rather as an active person who is part of our home. Our role as the parent in the home is to give freedom and set limits—not aggressively, nor passively, but in a respectful assertive way. Respect also means that we should allow children to make mistakes and to learn how to correct these mistakes themselves as well. By respecting the process we are also respecting the child.
Montessori is a wonderful method of education which has changed my own views of parenting for the better. I hope you will find it so as well.