Maria Montessori, physician, anthropologist and educator, studied children of all ethnic, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds for over fifty years. The resulting Montessori approach is based on the natural development of the child. Its flexibility provides a matrix within which each individual child’s inner directives freely guide the child toward wholesome growth.
The Montessori classrooms allow and encourage children to respond to their natural tendency to work. The children’s innate passion for learning is encouraged by giving them opportunities to engage in spontaneous, purposeful activities with the guidance of a trained adult. Through their work, the children develop concentration and joyful self-discipline. Within a framework of order, the children progress at their own pace and rhythm, according to their individual capabilities.
The Multi-Age Classroom
In a Montessori school, children spend three years, preschool through kindergarten, in the same classroom with the same teacher. There are tremendous academic and social benefits to this arrangement:
- The classroom functions much like a family, in which older and younger siblings learn from one other. The multi-age grouping instills important values, including patience, understanding and community. The younger children look up to the older ones as role models and the older children look forward to the opportunity to be mentors.
- Mixed age classrooms provide more stability than traditional schools, where students in the same grade are typically regrouped into classes each year. When children remain in the same classroom for three years, they tend to form more solid relationships with one another and a strong sense of community.
- The children have a sense of continuity and stability since two-thirds of the class returns each year.
The Prepared Environment
The Prepared Environment is designed so as to maximize and facilitate curiosity, independent thinking, and exploration. The six key principles of the Prepared Environment are:
- Freedom – The Prepared Environment allows for children to move freely so as to bring themselves in contact with the things and people in their environment they need for their own development. By exercising freedom, children their potential and increasing their knowledge of the world around them. Children are also free to work for as long as they wants to, without being interrupted by other children or by the constraints of a timetable etc. – as long as their activities don’t interfere with other children’s right and freedom to do the same.
- Structure and Order – Order pervades the Montessori environment. The physical order of the prepared environment is apparent, even to the youngest children. Order also underlies all of the less tangible aspects of the environment, including the manner and order of presentation, as well. For the older child the social order becomes more important.
- Beauty – The Prepared Environment exudes simplicity, harmony, and tranquility. Cave Creek Montessori classrooms are large and airy, uncluttered, and peaceful. Montessori materials are displayed and accessible on low, open shelves, enticing children to come and work.
- Nature and Reality – Everything in the classroom is designed to bring the child into closer contact with reality: tables and chairs are child sized and lightweight. The practical life materials are all real and they function the way they are supposed to. Children learn about nature by caring for plants and animals. Classrooms feature natural materials – – wood, metal, cotton, and glass – – rather than synthetics.
- Community – The Montessori classroom is a vibrant community, where children learn to interact socially in a variety of ways. Children are free to interact, and thereby develop empathy, compassion, and respect for diversity. The Montessori approach supports and encourages social interactions. The three-year age range enables older children to teach the younger and learn much themselves from the experience while the younger children are inspired to more advanced work through observing the older ones.
- Montessori Materials – The primary purpose of Montessori materials is not to develop skills or teach concepts; rather, the materials assist children in their own self-construction and in their physical, intellectual and social development. The materials stimulate children into logical thought and discovery.