What is Montessori — Understanding This Early Childhood Education Philosophy

Choosing how you will educate your child is probably one of the most important and stressful choices you make as a parent.

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In this article, I argued that early childhood education was more important than college. Education during these early years will help shape social, emotional and physical health, as well as develop intrinsic motivation for lifelong learning–not just learning to get a grade.

We know that education matters. But sometimes, we don't know what options are out there. It's important to dig into some of these early learning philosophies to really understand the choices you have for your child.

Rachel Kincaid, editor of the of The Montessori Post explains this amazing early childhood education philosophy.

“We discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being” — Dr. Maria Montessori

A Quick Overview of Montessori 

Dr. Maria Montessori's educational philosophy is multi-faceted and most notably includes the idea that children are eager and capable of learning new concepts, of doing for themselves, and of articulating their needs.

At the core of the philosophy is to look at ‘education' as actually ‘scientific pedagogy.'

That is to say, we as educators and caretakers should approach teaching (pedagogy) from a scientific approach.

The general rule of thumb is–observe, experiment, observe again.

What makes the Montessori philosophy different from other early childhood learning philosophies?

Fortunately (or unfortunately) there are many early childhood learning philosophies. Oftentimes many of these are more of a fad vs a tried and true learning philosophy.

Because the Montessori method is rooted in science, it capitalizes on what we know about child development such as the awareness of the sensitive period for language and encourages teachers of young children to expose them to not only rich and accurate language but also multiple languages when possible. (For example, my kids are already being exposed to Mandarin and Spanish at their current Montessori preschool).

Other philosophies don't always ‘strike while the iron is hot' or teach students concepts when they are most interested and apt to learn them.

Advantages of the Montessori Philosophy

One of the biggest advantages of the Montessori Method is independence. While it may be a buzzword, independence is a core result of the Montessori method that comes about through the careful observation of the child.

Don't children want to do for themselves and by themselves?

With the right tools, right guidance and the right amount of liberty, a child can become truly independent in many areas of their lives much earlier than they might in traditional schooling or family life.

The Montessori Classroom

Montessori classrooms are very carefully and intentionally prepared with activities that not only allow children to do what they naturally want to do, but also that aide them in developing important skills along the way.

For example, a 3-year-old will have many choices throughout her day to pour water, cut with scissors, prepare food, socialize, work independently, learn letter sounds, begin counting, move her body and so much more.

A well-trained teacher (called a Guide) will suggest new activities or encourage more practice to solidify her skills as she observes her move about the classroom.

Myths about Montessori

As a former Montessori educator, school director, and now adult educator, I've heard many assumptions and misconceptions of the Montessori method.

Aside from some asking ‘if it's a type of pasta' or a type of religion, I'd argue that one of the most widely held misconceptions is that Montessori is either very strict or very loose.

While the name is not trademarked, and each school, classroom and teacher has their own ‘flavor' or interpretation of Dr. Montessori's theories, an ‘authentic' Montessori school, will be an intentional mix of freedom within boundaries.

A  general misconception about child development is that children at the Early Childhood level (about ages 3 to 6) should not be exposed to academic principles.

Because many Montessori students after this level are reading and have a very strong understanding of our number system, some people may think that all the children have done is rote, forced academic preparation in their Montessori schools. But this is far from the truth.

If you visit a well-run Montessori school, you would see that children often choose ‘academic' activities because they love doing them. Their freedom of choice is respected and they learn the concepts so well as a result of a well-trained Guide and a well-prepared classroom.

“Doing Montessori” at Home

Some parents new to the Montessori concept may believe that ‘doing Montessori' is having the right activities or materials at home, such as only wooden toys or even no toys at all.

I'd argue that to ‘do' Montessori, one simply has to look at their child through a new lens. Understand that a child is eager and capable of learning new concepts, of doing for himself, and of articulating his needs.  Once a parent understands some of Dr. Montessori's basic theories, she will interact with her child in new ways that frankly, have little to do with what their playroom may contain.

Montessori at ANY Age

I always warn parents that once you see the Montessori method, it's very hard to forget it doesn't exist!

It is a wonderful option for teaching and learning, and Dr. Montessori's principles can be applied from birth to old age.

I happen to have my 3-year-old in a Montessori program, I homeschool my gradeschooler with ‘a Montessori lens' and I conduct my full time job with a Montessori perspective as well.

I'd warn against spending too much time criticizing one's ‘level of Montessori' by reading too much into a certain toy or material to buy, or by comparing your child's play area to that of Pinterest.

Anybody can adopt Dr. Montessori's genius way of approaching life, at any level, and at any age.

Rachel Kincaid earned her Bachelor of Arts in Spanish K-12 Education from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and her Early Childhood Montessori certificate from The Center for Guided Montessori Studies.  She is the co-founder of a bilingual Montessori preschool in North Carolina and currently serves as President of the non-profit Southeast Montessori Collective.  She also serves as editor of The Montessori Post and is the curator of digital material at The Montessori Library.

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