Exploring Montessori: Trusting in a child’s motivation and abilities
For some, Montessori may be a new philosophy and as such, may appear too complex to appreciate. Here, our Sector Manager for Education and Childcare Janet King explains why this could not be further from the truth.
The main aim of Montessori education is to help each individual child to reach their full potential in an environment specifically prepared to meet the child’s needs and interests.
Preeti Patel, Head of Education at Montessori Centre International, explains that “an environment specifically prepared to meet the child’s needs does not necessarily have to be an idealised view of a traditional, vast, open-plan, highly uniform, traditional-Montessori classroom.
“This expectation may be a barrier to your physical choices and options in your location and therefore potentially unachievable. The most important consideration here is the philosophy.”
Benefits of Montessori Education
Montessori philosophy is underpinned with trust in a child’s motivation and abilities, along with deep respect.
This involves respecting the uniqueness of every child, their freedom to choose, to move, to correct their own mistakes, to repeat, to communicate and to work at their own pace. The philosophy is based in the knowledge that children learn best when they are trusted, free to move, free to choose their own work, and follow their interests.
In a Montessori setting, children are free to move around the prepared environment, work where they feel they will learn best, and discover learning outcomes through hands-on experience; many of which are grounded in reality. Montessori learning is largely active, individually paced, often self-correcting, and tailored to meet the needs and interests of each individual child.
Children are supported in choosing meaningful and challenging work that captures their interest, leading to engagement, intrinsic motivation, sustained attention and concentration, and a sense of responsibility to oneself and others.
This child-directed work is supported by the design and flow of the Montessori classroom – low open shelves, logically ordered activities – to ignite each child’s curiosity and to provide the opportunity to work in calm, uncluttered spaces either individually or with peers.
Through purposeful movement in engaging with the activities offered, the child begins to realise their potential. The basis of each activity is the drive towards independence and providing the coordination and refinement of purposeful movement using real materials.
Valued as a unique individual
There’s a recognition that children are at different stages of development and will learn in different ways. As each child is supported on a one-to-one basis in a prepared environment, all learning styles can be accommodated. Children are free to learn at their own pace, each advancing as they are ready and not because of their age or a pre-planned curriculum or timetable, with the guidance and support of the educator and an individualised learning plan.
Preeti says: “This approach ensures that children are able to play, learn and engage at optimum levels based on their individual stages of development and interest. Each child has the opportunity for equal chances of success and developing a love for lifelong learning.”
Independence from the earliest opportunity
The intentional design of the environment, materials/activities, and daily routines support the student’s emerging “self-regulation” and “executive function”. The activities nurture order, support the development of concentration and promote independence in its widest sense.
Preeti goes on to say that “the focus of the engagement in the environment is to support children’s emerging self-regulation and developing executive function.
“The activities in the environment develop skills that will support investigation, critical thinking, develop ideas, build resilience, encourage independence of thought and activity etc whilst nurturing a questioning mind and love for lifelong learning.”
Part of a close, caring community
The multi-age classroom or vertically grouped environment – typically spanning three years – re-creates a family structure. Older children enjoy stature as mentors and role models, developing leadership skills and opportunities for consolidating their own learning; younger children feel supported and gain confidence as they settle into a new environment.
Educators act as role models, modelling respect, peaceful conflict resolution, kindness, and empathy.
“Montessori visualised the learning environments as the House of Children, hence why many Montessori settings call themselves Children’s House or Casa dei Bambini,” says Preeti. “The idea is to create a space that is for the children, which is accessible to the children with child-sized furniture and resources rather than the child fitting into the space of the adults.
“This space then recreates an environment that reflects the family structure in the home with children’s ages ranging over typically three years all in one space thereby creating a micro-community within the wider macro community.”
Freedom within limits
“This is perhaps one of the most misunderstood concepts of the Montessori Philosophy and Pedagogy,” explains Preeti. “When the idea of freedom is raised in a Montessori environment, there are visions of chaos and a free for all; the reality could not be further from this.
“Children within the environment are offered a number of freedoms such time, choice, movement, opportunity to work alone or in a group, to name a few, within agreed (with the children, not set by adults) boundaries.
“This allows for autonomy and independence seen in very few places leading to an engaged, calm and supportive environment in which children thrive physically, emotionally, cognitively and academically – with children being active participants and not mere bystanders in the learning and developmental journey.”
Becoming active pursuers of learning
Children in a Montessori environment learn within prepared environments that are facilitated by supportive educators who provide activities that reflect children’s interests and stage of development.
Educators prepare and provide environments where children have the freedom and the tools to pursue answers to their own questions. Intrinsic motivation rather than external rewards drive the child’s curiosity and interest, resulting in joyous learning that is sustainable over a lifetime.
Preeti adds: “Environments and activities developed after observing children’s interest and stage of development support children’s engagement within the environment.
“Auto didactic activities encourage engagement, support critical thinking and resilience as children investigate, attempt, and find solutions for themselves.”
Self-correction, self-assessment, and reflection
Preeti concludes: “In preparation for life, children learn to look critically at their work and become adept at recognising, correcting, and learning from their errors.
“After intensive initial support when children first enter a Montessori environment, educators slowly support children in becoming more independent learners by providing them with an environment and resources which support them.”
Next steps and progression
If you’re interested in Montessori, then it’s possible to progress from any level 3 Early Years Educator qualification onto the level 4 Diploma in Montessori Pedagogy – covering birth to seven years old.