Did you know that Montessori is actually a verb, not a noun?
Literally speaking, Montessori is the last name of Italian physician Maria Montessori who developed the method. The Montessori Method is much, much more than just a name. It’s a way of teaching that sparks students’ imaginations, allows for exploration, and provides hands-on materials to learn abstract concepts. And, this is just the smallest glimpse into a world where learning truly comes alive and students enjoy every minute of it!
Entering the doors of a Montessori school as a new leader, even when you are not Montessori trained yourself, can seem a bit overwhelming and different from your past experiences. You may even be asking yourself, “Where in the world should I start?”
These 5 Montessori Essentials will help you begin your journey and truly understand more about Montessori.
1: A Prepared Environment
Classrooms should be beautiful and in order. There should be no place to set your coffee cup, because doing so would destroy the beauty and order of the classroom. You won’t find vibrant posters and bulletin boards. However, you may come across numerous class pets (one in every phylum perhaps), plants that are taken care of by the students, and works stored in a precise order in baskets on shelves. While in a conference not long ago, I heard the presenter say that the prepared environment should look like a “please touch me museum” and not a “rummage sale.” That is exactly how you should feel about your teachers’ classrooms.
2: A Three-Year Age Grouping
Students are placed in three-year age groups based on Maria Montessori’s Planes of Development. The youngest children can be found following where as the oldest are found leading. Mentoring is happening continuously throughout the classroom on a daily basis. During the first year, students are introduced to many new concepts. During the second, they practice, and finally during the third year they are able to give back to other children throughout the room. Holding true to the three-year cycle is essential to the developmental growth of the child. Make sure to stay true to this grouping as much as possible.
3: Montessori Materials
You won’t find textbooks in a Montessori classroom during the pre-primary and elementary years. Montessori materials are beautifully created and enticing to the children. Many are also self-correcting so that the children may use the work and discover for themselves how to correct it. There is a reason that usually only one or two of each material exists in the prepared environment. This teaches the children not only patience for waiting their turn, but also respect as they know someone may be waiting for a particular material. Quite often students may be found working together on a particular work using a rug. Rugs help to define the space of the work just as a table would. By defining space and working with various materials throughout the room, students are able to explore their interests.
4: An Uninterrupted Work Cycle
Ideally, children would have a three-hour block of uninterrupted work time each day, primarily in the morning. This is a time when the children are free to chose their work (usually from a plan their teacher created) in the classroom and work at their own pace to explore their interests. The teacher works to observe students and discover which children are prepared for upcoming lessons. It is important to stay as true as possible to the uninterrupted work cycle. Sometimes, specials and recesses tend to interrupt many work cycles, so try blocking out at least a two-hour (uninterrupted) work block on these days. This time allows for the child to concentrate and be independent. It also gives them time and space to meet developmental needs.
5: Intrinsic Rewards
Montessori teachers do not have behavior charts or give stickers and candy for good behaviors. They work to foster intrinsic motivation of students to apply themselves and do their best without getting a tangible item in return. Telling students “Good job!” or “You’re awesome!” is also avoided. Teachers should be working to motivate students based on their own thoughts and beliefs about their work. Asking children probing questions such as, “How do you feel you did on your math card?” or “Did you try your very best?” will help them to have a better understanding of their capabilities. Guiding students to be intrinsically motivated can be tough, but rewarding them is much more detrimental in the long run.
As a new Montessori leader, your plate can seem quite full. Start with the essentials listed above when observing your teachers, and help guide them to stay true to the essentials the best they can. Remember, Montessori is not about teaching subjects as much as it is about teaching individuals. To learn more about Montessori, visit www.montessorirocks.org or follow them on Facebook!