Life of Montessori (1870-1952)
Since Infinity Children’s World introduced Montessori Parent Education to Hong Kong over 4 years ago, more and more parents recognize the value of this approach, and some Montessori schools have been given a second life in terms of enrollment demands. All of a sudden, many kindergartens or classrooms use the “Montessori corner” as a selling point, and some manufacturers even sell “Montessori materials and toys”. Unfortunately, many of these so-called Montessori classes and materials lack substance. Worse still, Montessori has been misused by entrepreneurs to hasten children’s development, creating a lot of misconception about the central ideas of this educational philosophy. Parents have been misled to focus only on the superficial use of materials, missing the true spirit behind Dr. Montessori’s ideals.
Based on long-term observation and experimentation, Italian educator and physician Dr. Maria Montessori developed a whole-person educational approach and philosophy. She also designed a system of concrete learning materials that supports children’s physical and psychological development. Her approach takes a drastically different point of view on education compared to traditional schools.
Montessori is an integration of Western medicine, psychology, anthropology and philosophy, and enables adults to assist children’s healthy development.
The basic principle is to follow children’s natural development and nurture the elements that are needed in learning, so that children can freely, proactively, and orderly explore in a thoughtfully prepared learning environment. The Montessori approach is not only a framework for schools but can be applied at home as well.
Curriculum/ Learning Areas
"To think and to wish is not enough. It is action which counts."
Dr. Maria Montessori, Spontaneous Activity in Education, p.170
The Montessori curriculum attends to children’s psychological development and builds up their abilities. The main learning areas include Practical Life, Sensorial, Math, Language, Science and Culture, and Music and Art. Learning through all 5 senses—sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch is a key feature in Montessori education.
Environment as a Silent Teacher
The Montessori learning environment is one that is thoughtfully prepared by well-trained adults. Children are free to explore their learning environment and have plenty of opportunities to fulfill their internal needs. The various tasks that children engage in are favorable for their minds and souls. By manipulating the materials that have varying degrees of difficulty, children can acquire abstract concepts in concrete ways.
"The child has a different relation to his environment from ours. Adults admire their environment; they can remember it and think about it; but the child absorbs it."
Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p.62
Well-trained Montessori directresses (i.e. teachers) are caring and keen observers, and they will guide children according to their unique needs and abilities. In this prepared environment, children can direct their own learning, and learn how to make choices, identify, and correct their mistakes. The interaction between teachers and children honors children’s dignity, and the ultimate goal is to nurture an independent and self-determined child.
Montessori highlighted several key points that can help children reach their potential:
- Allow children to proactively use their senses to learn about the surrounding
- Be aware of children’s sensitive periods, let them repeat the same activity until they have mastered it
- Be aware of the motives behind children’s actions and how that relates to their intrinsic learning needs
Why is Montessori Math easy to learn?
In order to help children learn math better, we must begin by giving them concrete experiences (objects that they can manipulate with their hands) before introducing abstract symbols. Feeling the length, size, weight etc. of objects will build up children’s minds which lays the foundation for further learning. Only then should we move on to label these concepts using proper terminology, and finally represent the concept using symbols. The foundation for math is a logical mind, which is acquired through concrete experiences during the early years.
A lot of people think that Math is a challenging subject that is hard to understand, mostly because everyone thinks it is too abstract. But Dr. Maria Montessori believes that it is not the abstract concepts that make Math hard for children, but rather the inappropriate teaching methods.
Embodied in those pieces is the algebraic formula for finding the volume of a cube.
(a+b)3 = a3+3a2b+3ab2+b3
From ages 3 to 5, the Binomial Cube is a Sensorial Material and is like a puzzle in that one fits the pieces together. At elementary level, they are specifically shown how it embodies the binomial formula.
Famous Montessori students and supporters
Throughout history, a number of preeminent individuals have been proponents of Montessori. They had either gone through Montessori education themselves, or they have sent their own children to a Montessori school. Here are some examples.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Founders of Google.com), Jeff Bezos (Amazon.com), Jean Piaget (noted Swiss Psychologist), Alice Waters (Restaurateur and Writer), Friedensreich Hundertwasser (Austrian painter and Architect), Julia Child (Chef, Star of many TV Cooking Shows, and Author), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Nobel Prize winner for Literature), Helen Keller, Alexander Graham Bell (Inventor), Thomas Edison (Inventor), Henry Ford (Founder of the Ford Motor Company), Mahatma Gandhi (Ideological leader of India), Sigmund Freud (Austrian Neurologist), Buckminster Fuller (American Architect, Engineer, Author, and Inventor), Leo Tolstoy (Russian Writer), Bertrand Russell British (Philosopher, Logician, and Mathematician), John Holt (American Author and Educator), Erik Erikson (Psychologist), Anne Frank (Author of The Diary of Anne Frank), the Dalai Lama, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (Former First Lady), Prince William and Prince Harry (English Royal Family), Cher Bono (Singer and Actress), Yul Brynner (Actor), Bill and Hillary Clinton (Former President and New York Senator), Yo Yo Ma (Cellist), etc.