What is Montessori Education?

"Montessori" means different things to different people and sometimes different things to the same person. Montessorians themselves may disagree on what constitutes the core of Montessori education and philosophy. The word "Montessori" could refer to a movement for social reform, a set of materials, an approach to raising children, a theory of human development or a philosophy of life.

Most Montessori schools, teachers and teacher education programs share a number of characteristics that distinguish them from other schools, teachers and programs, yet for one to understand "Montessori" in any of its manifestations, knowledge of Maria Montessori, the person, is an important first step.

Over her lifetime, Maria Montessori (1870-1953) developed and articulated a rich, holistic philosophy of human development and a detailed methodology for its implementation. For more than 70 years her ideas and practices have been implemented successfully across cultures and economic classes throughout the world. Contemporary research continues to validate many of her ideas. The influence of her ideas continues to grow.

Montessori based her philosophy and methods on a deep understanding of and respect for children. She wrote that all human beings are born with both universal and unique potentials. Every person enters the world with a unique inner plan that directs and drives them to develop, to master and to perfect themselves. Human beings begin life with internal timetables and patterns already established for growth, both physically and psychologically. If free to grow in healthy surroundings under suitable conditions, children naturally grow into intelligent, competent and responsible adults. it is the task of adults to provide such conditions and aid children in their great quests to develop to their full potentials.

According to Montessori's theory, children are in a process of self-realization. While Montessorians assume that all people possess many of the same basic traits, tendencies and needs and that they pass through the same basic stages, they also emphasize that each person is different and must be regarded and respected as a unique individual, born with the right to live in a healthy world. Montessori viewed a reformed educational system as vital to promoting peace and improving society.

Montessori education is both art and science. Often called an "education for life," Montessori programs help children learn how to be independent, self-directed learners equipped with the tools needed to accomplish their educational goals and objectives.

It was Montessori's aim to create a new science of teaching based on natural development which would enable each person to maximize his or her full potential. She designed a system through a process of observation and experimentation, and considered these the means to implement and perfect that system.

Teachers observe to determine student's needs and then experiment to create an environment that will allow learners to meet those needs and follow their natural development. All Montessori's methods and ideas are based on, and depend on, an ongoing process of observation and experimentation. To a Montessorian, an education's purpose includes, but goes beyond, the acquisition of basic skill and knowledge. While students are encouraged to become thoughtful readers, clear writers, skillful with computers, problem solvers and logical thinkers, they are also encouraged to fully develop their physical, emotional, social, moral, and spiritual potential.

Montessori's influence can be seen not only in the number of schools that bear her name, but in the fields of child care, education and child development. Many Montessori practitioners are moving away from Montessori settings and using the ideas and practices of Montessori education in other settings. Man of her ideas are now part of our common knowledge, language and thinking about children. Other ideas are being reintroduced as part of larger efforts to reform contemporary education.

Among the ideas she pioneered that are now being championed by public and private schools are these:

* Hands-on learning and manipulatives, particularly for mathematics

* Structured learning environments designed to facilitate self-directed learning

* Stress on intrinsic motivation and student choice of activities

* Multi-age groupings

* Peer tutoring and cooperative learning

* Self-correcting materials

* Ecological studies

* Global education

* Peace education

* Mastery or outcome-based learning rather than strict curriculum outlines or credit hours