If you ask any parent what they would want for their child, they would most likely say something similar to, “I want them to be happy.” But what is happiness? Is it success? Is it having money? Is it simply an emotion? Let’s see if we can define “happiness” more precisely. Happiness is the combination of being both free to reach toward your own potential and also disciplined enough to actually fulfill it. That’s what Montessori education is all about, unlocking the child’s individual potential so they may lead a satisfied and “happy” life. So, how do we get there?
Montessori Education as an “Aid to Life”
Across the world, people are all asking a similar question about education. Does school prepare children for real life? Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female medical doctor in Italy and one of the foremost educators of the 20th century, posed the same question when she began observing children and developing a new style of education. She proposed a method based on child development that would allow the child’s optimal development to unfold in all areas: physical, emotional, social, and intellectual. The Montessori method aims to educate the whole child in order to unlock not just their potential as a 3 or 4 year old but their long term potential as a human. In a Montessori environment, the goal is not content memorization or achieving some group standard, but instead inviting the child to learn HOW to learn and HOW to construct themselves, a skill that will be used throughout their life. We aim to cultivate curiosity about the world so children may research and explore the answers to their own questions instead of having the teacher pose (and often answer) the questions. No matter what their interest or skill set, the child is given the space and support to pursue.
The Triad: The Child, The Prepared Adult, and The Prepared Environment
It’s a lofty goal, but how does this happen? Montessori education is based on real human and child development after decades, and now centuries, of observation of children. In a Montessori classroom, we of course have the students and the teacher (or guide), but an additional element is added in to complete the triad: the prepared environment. The prepared environment is not only the classroom space organized into the categories of practical life, sensorial, language, and mathematics but the way the materials are carefully chosen and presented to inspire the child on their journey of self-construction. Through observation of the child and a deep understanding of child development, the prepared adult is the link between the child and the materials.The materials are scientifically designed to fulfill a specific need in the child and focus on concrete experience, often of abstract concepts, as well as indirect preparation that will aid the child in all they will do in the future. Developing control and coordination of the hand, an ability to repeat and concentrate, as well as the development of individual interests.
Respect for the Child and Their Individual Path
How do we invite the child to fulfill their potential? It really starts with respect and trust. We respect the child’s inner teacher, the one who directs them towards the materials they need to work with in order to construct themselves properly. We also trust them with delicate boxes, tiny math materials, giant maps, and glass pitchers, because we know they can handle them safely if they have been prepared to do so. In our environment we don’t have grades, tests, or specific standards. Instead the prepared adult observes each child as an individual and creates a plan to support their interests and development. In a Montessori class, each child is unique and each child has something beautiful to bring to the community.
In a 3-6 year old Montessori classroom, you may see::
- A 3 year old child carrying a heavy pitcher to refill their own used for pouring, and then making sure it is full for the next person.
- A 5 year old working quietly with a friend to complete a collaborative artwork.
- A 4 year old adding and subtracting into the thousands with beautiful golden beads.
- An older child teaching a younger one how to use a material.
- A young child being able to clean up an accidental spill without interference from an adult.
- The guide is looking through pictures of South America with one child, only to have a few more join out of interest and make a small group.
- A child placing their hand on a friend’s shoulder to politely interrupt them.
If anything, you will see confident, motivated, and curious children, and that’s why we choose Montessori.
Here are some resources for learning more about Montessori: