Montessori Method

Absorbent Mind

Absorbent mind is Maria Montessori's term for the mental structure that children have from birth until approximately age six. The young child's mind is capable of soaking up or absorbing information without being taught. All of the experiences a child has and the learning that occurs during these highly impressionable years are indeed retained and will influence the person that child will become.

[Boy playing on floor]Since young children actively and unconsciously absorb the oral language within their environment, adults have a tremendous responsibility and opportunity to influence who they will become. The more care we take in consciously enriching the experiences of young children, the more likely that they will absorb and carry positive impressions into adulthood. For this reason, Montessori teachers are trained to create and consciously maintain a nurturing and enriching environment.

The absorbent mind fully transforms into intellect after age six, and is characterized by imagination, abstraction, and conscious reasoning. Since children in an elementary classroom are capable of abstraction, introducing abstract concepts during the elementary years is far more effective than presenting them in early childhood because we are working with rather than against nature. Montessori elementary students learn to harness their conscious reasoning abilities as they plan, assess, and monitor their work, which involves reflection and self-regulation.

Teacher as Guide

The teacher acts as a guide within the carefully prepared and dynamic Montessori classroom environment. The focus is on intimately understanding the children and engaging them in the learning process. Every lesson is adapted to meet the particular needs, abilities, and interests of the children.

The Classroom Environment

Free from reprimand or competition, a Montessori classroom is a peaceful and joyful learning environment. Children learn through direct experience, investigation and discovery, which has proven to be much more effective than rote memorization. Children are able to progress through the curriculum at their own pace. They are considered ready for a lesson at the time that will be appropriate and engaging for them, not based on a teacher’s pre-determined schedule of lessons.

In a Montessori classroom, children are encouraged to explore their surroundings through the senses and to work with hands-on materials. The prepared environment is arranged to enable children to orient themselves and to easily find materials. During the elementary and middle school years, exploration expands to include the greater community through field trips and service learning.

Montessori Materials

[Girl Building a Tower]The Montessori curriculum is comprised of carefully defined multi-sensory and self-correcting materials that isolate and demonstrate one concept or skill at a time within a sequence that facilitates mastery of that particular concept or skill. The materials transform abstract concepts into clear and concrete form and lead to a deeper understanding of those concepts. For example, the trinomial cube provides elementary children with a tangible, concrete experience of an abstract algebraic concept.

The structure of Montessori learning involves the use of many materials with which the child may work individually. At every step of the learning process, the material is designed to test the child's understanding and to allow him to discover and correct his own errors. Each child works at his or her own pace. Hence, the quick learner is not held back and the child who needs more time to grasp a particular concept is not left to flounder. Montessori puts the competitive spirit in a more positive perspective so that children may compete with their own potential rather than because of societal pressures. Schools have existed historically to teach children to observe, to think, and to judge. Montessori introduces children to the joy of learning at an early age and provides a framework in which intellectual and social development go hand in hand.

Multi-age Classrooms and the Three-year Cycle

Children in a Montessori setting typically remain in the same classroom for a three year cycle (i.e. from age 3-6 in Early Childhood, from 1st through 3rd grade in Lower Elementary, from 4th through 6th grade in Upper Elementary). This gives their teachers the opportunity to develop an in-depth understanding of individual learning styles, interests, abilities, and needs. This three-year cycle also provides continuity of learning as children rarely experience the “starting over” adjustment period that often occurs in other types of learning environments when they change teachers and classrooms each year.

Planes of Development

[Girls under a tree]

Maria Montessori identified four major planes or stages of human development from birth to age 24. These stages include the Concrete Plane (Birth to 6 years), the Cosmic Plane (6 to 12 years), the Cultural Plane (12 to 18 years), and Discernment (18 to 24 years). Each Montessori environment is designed to meet the needs corresponding to that particular stage of child development. Our Toddler, Emerging, and Early Childhood classrooms correspond to the concrete plane of development, where learning is through the senses and essential aspects of development include independence, coordination, self-discipline, concentration, and order. These children need opportunities for sensorial exploration, an ordered and beautiful environment, materials responsive to their learning needs, gentle guidance and boundaries, freedom to safely explore, a language rich environment, and gross and fine motor practice.

Our Lower and Upper Elementary environments are designed to meet the needs of children in the cosmic plane of development, which is characterized by imagination, the passage to abstraction, and great intellectual growth. Essential aspects of development in this plane include socialization, imagination, moral development, and social conscience. These children need a learning environment that is responsive to individual needs, provides group work, allows them to take responsibility for their own work, and provides opportunities for research. They also need an environment that gives them the opportunity to learn how to become contributing members of a community.

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