What is Montessori? The history and the 7 principles

Montessori is an education system that allows children to develop natural interests and activities instead of following a formal teaching method. Let’s start with a little history first.

The History of Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori in 1906 was asked to create an educational environment for the underprivileged children living in the inner city of Rome. 

She found that introducing toys like puzzles, life skills, and learning about nature allowed for hands-on learning experiences. Children became very engaged and absorbed knowledge from their surroundings. She created activities that focus on the desire of the child to learn.

The 7 Principles of Montessori

Here are the 7 principles of Montessori that will better explain the Montessori method.

1. Play is Work-

Maria Montessori believed that “Play is the work of a child.” With that being said, play is so important. I have found that having fun and engaging the child while learning was when my preschoolers learned the most. Children learn by doing.

2. Prepared Environment-

The Prepared Environment is an essential part of the Montessori Method. This principle is quite simply an environment-based on child development. The Montessori Method is designed to offer many activities that go along with the developmental needs of a variety of children. These activities may not appeal to every child but all can find something they are interested in. 

These prepared environments are set up special for all ages. Montessori works for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, elementary aged children as well as middle and high school. For example, for younger children, toys and activities are put on lower shelves where little ones can grab them. Toys are colorful, attractive and sensory oriented.

Children are encouraged to work independently. Materials that are used in homes and schools meet the needs and development in specific ways. The materials that are used in the Montessori prepared environments are used because children have chosen them over and over again.

3. Observation-

Observation is a critical part of lesson planning. 

Observation is used to better understand the child and to see through the eyes of the child. Deciding how best to support the child using the Montessori Method. 

Observation is much more than simply watching a child. Simple observation does not have an agenda or predetermined conclusion beforehand. The information gathered is what has been taken from the observation itself. Standardized learning falls short in this area.

4. Freedom Within limits-

The concept is empowering. This embraces the type of play that the child is an explorer and learns by doing things for themselves. 

Freedom is encouraged by the prepared environment. This environment has kid-friendly work spaces, low shelves and encourages the child to move freely through the classroom. This way the child can choose what they want to learn within the limits.

Freedom to Move-

Children are free to move around the classroom and can move from one activity to another. This way the child can explore and discover their own interests.

Freedom of Choice-

The Montessori Method allows the child the choice to discover their needs, abilities and interests.

Freedom of Time-

Children are allowed to work on activities for as long as they want. This encourages children to concentrate, problem solve and wait patiently for their turn.

Freedom to Repeat-

Children are given the opportunity to work on activities again and again. Through repetition children learn to problem solve.

Freedom to Communicate-

Children are encouraged to talk about the outcome of the activities they experience. They learn to problem solve and learn to develop social skills.

Freedom to Make Mistakes-

The Montessori Method allows for the children to work independently and allow the child to understand the outcome through hands-on experience.

The Benefits of having freedom within limits allows the child to move around the classroom. This teaches the child to become respectful members of their environment by using real life experiences. By choosing what is best for themself the child learns to become an independent and confident learner.

5. Respect-

Here are the Rules of a Montessori classroom.

a. Respect for oneself-

Children learn to work safely and productively. They are encouraged to work independently and use the materials respectfully so as not to harm themselves.

b. Respect for others-

Children can work in small groups. A child must be invited to work with another child. They cannot interfere or hinder another child’s work. 

c. Respect for the environment-

The children are expected to treat everything in the classroom with the proper respect. This may include the use of the materials, packing them away, and cleaning up.

6. Hands-on Learning-

“The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.”

The Montessori classroom encourages learning through touching, feeling and doing instead of sitting at a desk and listening to a teacher.

Again, the child is allowed to move around the classroom and engage in the activities they want. Learning by taking the hands-on approach to discover their interests.

If we allow children to touch and explore, they will make more neural connections. This will help with learning down the road because they will have developed those connections early on.

7. Independence-

“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”

The Montessori Method encourages independence even in the youngest of students. 

The gift we give our children is letting them be independent. This empowers them and makes them feel confident in the decisions they make. 

When we trust children, they learn to trust themselves and make good decisions. 

Practicing the Montessori Method looks different at different ages. The younger children up to 6 years old want to do everything by themselves. Older children want to think for themselves. Children will continue to practice being independent as they grow.

How can parents help to support this independence at home?

We need to as parents look at our child’s abilities in a whole new way. Children are often able to do more than we realize. Our children want to do what we do and with the proper tools and support they can begin to do just that. 

We as parents can slow down and let our children move at their own pace. For example, if your child wants to learn to zip their coat, we can let them practice even though it will take more time. In the long run it will benefit all of you.   With life being so busy it may seem like it’s not possible. Add a little bit of time into your schedule so they are not feeling late and rushed.

My granddaughter Willa attends a Montessori preschool. I have seen her become independent, doing more and more things on her own. In the summer I take Willa to the public pool almost every day. Recently she started going down the curly slide. She wanted to give up because water kept going up her nose. She was not going to go down the slide anymore.  I suggested just plugging her nose before going into the water. A half hour later she decided she was going on the slide again. She had thought about it and decided that plugging her nose was a good idea and she went down. It worked. She goes down all the time now. 

I would like to tell you I made that happen. But I know that Willa was using the Montessori Method. She thought about the current outcome and decided to try something new. She was using the problem-solving skills she learned. I love to see how she has become a confident learner and is willing to work on things to find solutions.