The Beginnings of the Montessori Method
One of the great pioneers in the study of child development was Dr. Maria Montessori who, as a physician, became interested in how the brain functions. She started her work with children with mental deficiencies and, in 1907, began to work with other children.
At that time, a program created to rebuild the San Lorenzo area of Rome provided jobs for parents and schools for their children. Soon, however, children under age six became a problem and program developers asked Dr. Montessori to work with these children. She instituted a program that gave them the opportunity to maintain the classroom and explore academic subjects.
For her Casa dei Bambini, Dr. Montessori had furniture made that was child-sized (a concept that originated with Dr. Montessori and is accepted today). She brought in materials that she previously used to help develop the senses in children with learning differences. And, most importantly, she observed the behavior of the children. She realized that children love order and repetition, have a large capacity for concentration, and achieve satisfaction from successful completion of tasks. From this, she developed her philosophy and method for education. Within a year, her accomplishments with these children earned worldwide acclaim and became a landmark in the education of young children.
The Montessori Philosophy
The Montessori method is child-centered. In a Montessori classroom, one will find the “triad” of child, material, and guide (teacher)–each part providing balance. To inspire independent thinking, the guide facilitates learning by giving lessons on specialized materials that allow children to learn for themselves. The guide encourages the children’s academic, social, and intellectual exploration.
The Three-Year Cycle
Montessori stresses learning by doing and teaching others. At Onesimo Hernandez, we provide specially designed, multi-sensorial materials that constantly engage children in their own learning. This allows them to learn and understand from experience.
With cross-age, cross-grade groupings in three-year developmental cycles, children eventually internalize what they have learned by teaching the younger children. As mentors and role models, they also learn leadership and responsibility.
Onesimo Hernandez guides are experienced, certified professionals with rigorous Montessori training and practical in-class internships that lead to certification for the developmental cycle with which they work. The same extensive Montessori training, background, and experience is required of beginner and preschool faculty as for elementary and middle school faculty.
Benefits of the Montessori Method
Most of us recall the pressure to conform to the pace of the academic group during our own school years. Brightstudents had to wait for the group while students requiring more repetition were labeled “slow.” At Onesimo Hernandez, individual differences are respected. The curriculum allows very gifted students to learn quickly. At the same time, students who need material repeated also feel comfortable. The children soon learn that no one is “gifted” or “slow” in all areas. They develop tolerance for differences and learn to respect each other’s individual abilities.
Many people have forgotten the majority of the information they once were able to recite for tests. Do you remember the Pythagorean theorem? What were the causes of World War I? Who was Gutenberg and why is he important?
Traditional teaching methods present abstract concepts built upon other abstract concepts. The mind is able to memorize information in this way, but is often unable to integrate the information. When knowledge is tied to a concrete concept, however, it is more apt to be retained permanently. In a Montessori classroom three-dimensional materials allow students to discover the concept, apply it in different situations, and then abstract the knowledge.
Some of us came to dislike school and all that it represented because we were told in detail what to do daily. We were left with little or no opportunity to explore our own creativity or learn effective decision-making strategies.
Montessori students learn at their own pace. They explore the environment and develop a sense of their own competence by doing for themselves. They are free to complete a project or pursue a subject as thoroughly as they wish. Individualized work plans provide a framework from which a student may choose, but students usually feel they are making their own choices. If a student does not schedule time to cover all subject areas each week, the teacher helps the child see the mistake in judgment and establish a more effective schedule. Gradually, students become less adult-dependent and better able to make sound judgments while retaining the joy of learning.