What Are Montessori Schools?
If you’ve been searching for a nursery for your child, you may have come across the term Montessori School. But what does that mean, exactly?
These schools follow an educational movement developed by the Italian doctor and educator, Maria Montessori, in the early twentieth century. Dr Montessori’s educational philosophy is based on hands-on learning and self-directed activity, allowing children to make choices. This child-centered approach was inspired by Dr Montessori’s scientific observations. She believed that all children are naturally eager for learning and that schools should provide a supportive, stimulating environment to allow them to flourish.
Today there are over 20,000 Montessori schools worldwide – including 700 in the UK. Although Montessori schools are mainly associated with early years education, there are a handful of private Montessori primary schools in the UK. There are even four state primary schools that use the Montessori method. Although most Montessori schools are secular, faith schools can also use the Montessori method.
In order for a school to call itself a Montessori, the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) specifies the following criteria:
- Mixed-age classrooms
- Choice from a range of prescribed activities
- Uninterrupted blocks of time
- A discovery model, where children learn from exploring concepts rather than from direct instruction. These typically involve specially designed educational materials – often made from natural materials.
- Thoughtfully prepared environment – for example, child-sized furniture made of natural materials.
More Montessori Schools details
As opposed to traditional schools, where the teacher follows a lesson plan and all the pupils do the same activity at the same time, in a Montessori school a range of activities are available and children can choose which one to engage with – for as long or as little as they like. A Montessori teacher observes and encourages her students based on their individual choices. In a Montessori classroom, children can work collaboratively or independently, depending on their personal preferences.
Although freedom is the guiding principle of the movement, letting children follow their individual interests and instincts, order and structure are also key to Montessori education.
The rewards and sanctions used in most schools do not feature in Montessori education. Montessori teachers only intervene if a child is being disruptive. The emphasis is on teaching children self-discipline rather than imposing discipline on children.
Montessori teachers are attuned to sensitive periods in each of their pupil’s development. These are windows of opportunity when a child is ready to learn, and teachers use these periods to teach new skills – such as reading and counting – rather than teaching them at a pre-ordained age. Montessori primary schools do follow a curriculum, but children have autonomy over when they complete certain tasks.
Advocates of Montessori education point to benefits such as emotional wellbeing, independence and autonomy. Montessori schools can also cater for children with Special Educational Needs.
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