The Montessori method is an alternative child educational method based on child development theories originated by Italian educator Maria Montessori (1870-1952).
The Montessori method discourages traditional measurements of achievement (grades, tests) on the premise that it damages the emotional inner-growth of children (and adults), yet, it does measure feedback and qualitative analyses of a child's schooling performance, usually recorded as a list of skills, activities, and critical points, and sometimes including a narrative explanation of the child's educational achievements, strengths, and weaknesses - with the emphasis upon the improvement of said weaknesses.
The Montessori method of child education is characterised by self-directed activity on the part of the child with observation on the part of the teacher, often called a director, directress or guide. The teacher will use their observations of the childs activity to adabt the childs learning environment to his/her development level, introducing auto-didactic (self-correcting) equipment to facilitate the learning of concepts. Reading is taught via phonics and whole language.
The premises of a Montessori approach to teaching and learning include the following:
- That children are capable of self-directed learning.
- That it is critically important for the teacher to be an 'observer' of the child instead of a lecturer. This observation of the child interacting with his or her environment is the basis for the continuing presentation of new material and avenues of learning. Presentation of subsequent exercises for skill development and information accumulation are based on the teacher's observation that the child has mastered the current exercise(s).
- That there are numerous 'sensitive periods' of development (periods of a few weeks or even months), during which a child's mind is particularly open to learning specific skills or knowledge such as crawling, sitting, walking, talking, reading, counting, and various levels of social interaction. These skills are learned effortlessly and joyfully. Learning one of these skills outside of its corresponding sensitive period is certainly possible, but can be difficult and frustrating.
- That children have an 'absorbent mind' from birth to around age 6, possessing limitless motivation to achieve competence within their environment and to perfect skills and understandings. This phenomenon is characterized by the young child's capacity for repetition of activities within sensitive period categories, such as exhaustive babbling as language practice leading to language competence.
- That children are masters of their school room environment, which has been specifically prepared for them to be academic, comfortable, and to encourage independence by giving them the tools and responsibility to manage its upkeep.
- That children learn through discovery, so didactic materials with a control for error are used. Through the use of these materials, which are specific to Montessori schools (sets of letters, blocks and science experiments) children learn to correct their own mistakes instead of relying on a teacher to give them the correct answer.
- That children most often learn alone during periods of intense concentration. During these self-chosen and spontaneous periods, the child is not to be interrupted by the teacher.
- That the hand is intimately connected to the developing brain in children. Children must actually touch the shapes, letters, temperatures, etc. that they are learning about--not just watch a teacher or TV screen tell them about these discoveries.