There are about 4,000 Montessori schools in the United States and Canada and thousands more around the world.
There is a tremendous diversity within the community of Montessori schools. Despite the impression that all Montessori schools are alike, no two Montessori schools are the same.
Almost all Montessori Schools share some fundamental similarities such as:
1. Mixed-age groups
2. Structure learning around a child-centered, "prepared" environment in which students work independently and follow their own path through the three-year curriculum
3. Recognize that children between birth and age 6 are like little sponges -- they absorb information from their environments at an incredible rate
4. Uses materials that are often considered sophisticated by traditional preschool standards
5. Allow a certain amount of child-directed work
6. Focus on individual progress and development
7. Emphasize grace and courtesy
8. Believe in the child's ability to perform many self-care skills and to be useful member of his/her family and community
The Montessori method evolved almost by accident from a small experiment that Dr. Maria Montessori carried out on the side. Maria Montessori is an individual ahead of her time. She was born in 1870 in Ancona, Italy to an educated but not affluent middle-class family.
Montessori pursued a scientific education and was the first woman to be a physician in Italy. As a physician, she specializes in pediatrics and psychiatry. It is her experience working with the children that convinced her that intelligence is not rare and that most newborns come into the world with human potential that will be barely revealed. She has started to revolutionized the education methodology and designed her own materials to provide purposeful activity, need for stimulation and self-esteem among the children she cared for. Thus, the Montessori Methodology.
The Mysterious Montessori Materials
Children (and adults too) best learn through direct experience. The Montessori materials are not the method itself. They are simply the tools to stimulate the child into logical thought and discovery. Each material are carefully designed to appeal to children at a given level of development. Each material isolates and teaches one concept or skill at a time.
The materials are displayed in a low, open shelves for easy access even by the youngest children.
The Montessori Curriculum
1. Everything is interrelated. One lesson leads to many others.
2. The child moves from the concrete toward abstract understanding
3. We always work on a big picture to increasing detail
4. Every three years, major themes in the curriculum are studied again in greater depth and abstraction
The very first schools that Maria Montessori establish was the Case dei Bambini or Children's house consisting of 50 children from two to five years of age taught by untrained caregiver. Dr. Montessori used the title "directress" instead of a teacher to emphasize that they are not the center of attention for this is not their class, it is the "Children's House". Their primary role is to prepare and maintain the physical, intellectual, social and emotional environment within which the children will work.
By allowing the children to develop a meaningful degree of independence and self-discipline, Montessori sets a pattern for a lifetime of good work habits and a sense of responsibility. Students are taught to take pride in doing things well.
Not a Teacher BUT a Guide
Montessori teachers focuses on the child rather than lesson plans or curriculum. Maria Montessori puts much emphasis on teachers as guides nurturing and inspiring human potential, leading children to ask questions, think of themselves, explore, investigate and discover. The ultimate objective is to help them to learn how to learn independently, retaining the curiosity, creativity and intelligence with which they were born.