Maria Montessori was a physician in Rome in the early 1900's. She had experience with special needs children, so the government asked her to establish a program to care for young children who were being left home alone while their parents worked at low-wage jobs. Applying her scientific skills of observation and experimentation, she discovered how these young children learn best. Dr. Montessori used the phrase "The Absorbent Mind" to describe children from birth through age six because of the way they absorb information from their surroundings, and incorporate that information into a world view that guides them through the rest of their lives.
A Montessori program for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers provides trained adults who prepare a learning environment for their students. The teachers do not "teach" by telling things to the children, as they might in a more typical preschool program. We believe that children learn best when they teach themselves, and when they are learning we call it "work".
Our Montessori classrooms have areas for work on sensorial, practical life, mathematics, language, geography, science, and creative skills. Sensorial work is designed to help children explore their senses, learning about shapes, colors, size, smells, sounds, matching, sorting, and grouping. Practical Life work includes pouring, spooning, washing, food preparation, and learning to fasten and unfasten zippers, buttons, snaps, buckles, and laces. The Practical Life work also helps build fine motor skills needed for writing.
Mathematics and Language work allows children to understand foundational concepts through concrete, hands-on activities. Once a child has mastered the work and has sufficient fine motor skills, they may begin writing with a pencil and paper to record the results of their hands-on efforts. Our children do not complete worksheets as this is not an appropriate way for children this age to learn.
We expose children to geography and science starting at a young age. While they may not fully understand what a planet is, or that they live on the North American continent, but if we show them globes and maps, and pictures and models of the solar system, the concepts will seem like second nature as they mature and are able to understand more fully. Montessori children are well prepared for further school experiences by the breadth of knowledge they exposed to in their early years.
While not strictly required for a Montessori classroom, each of our classes include materials for artistic expression. By painting, drawing, making a collage, or working with clay, children are able to freely experiment with their imaginations and the materials, if they are interested. We further enrich our program with Music, Art, and Spanish lessons, as well as a weekly Yoga class that teaches children awareness of the parts of their body, and of their level of energy, anxiety, and joy.
The ability of the teacher to prepare the environment and to observe and guide each child is key to the success of a Montessori class. There are two major organizations that certify and train teachers. The Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) is the international group originally started by Maria Montessori. The U.S. branch of the organization can be found online at www.amiusa.org. The American Montessori Society (AMS), split from AMI years ago, and also certifies and trains teachers. They can be found online at www.amshq.org.
To learn more about Montessori, you might want to explore some of the links below.