The Montessori method has had a significant impact on early education as we know it. While many know the fundamentals of Montessori learning, something less known is how they teach music.
Maria Montessori, the founder of this learning method, felt that children learn best through their senses. The Montessori learning program adheres to the following principle when teaching music to children: Learning should be child-directed with support, encouragement, and guidance from the teacher.
That very briefly tapped into the question. The reality is, to understand how the Montessori Method teaches music, it is important to understand what principles, themes, and focuses are significant in the curriculum. Keep reading to learn more about the Montessori learning method and how it incorporates music into its curriculum.
What Is the Montessori Method, and How Does It Work with Music?
Before we discuss how the Montessori method applies to music, we must understand how the Montessori method was developed in the first place.
Maria Montessori created the Montessori Method in the early 1900s. Throughout her life, she made incredible contributions to the early childhood education we know and see today. Maria spent much of her academic career observing children and how they learned.
While many believed poor and underprivileged children were “mentally retarded,” Maria’s observations led her to believe otherwise. To prove her beliefs, in 1907, Dr. Montessori opened Casa Dei Bambini, translated as “Children’s House.” The Casa Dei Bambini catered to underprivileged children between the ages of three and seven. It was here that she developed the Montessori Method.
The Montessori Method is child-centered and child-focused. This learning style operates with the ideology that all children are capable of learning and growing. Additionally, the Montessori learning method encourages the use of raw material in learning. Students should participate in real-life experiences, not imaginative play. (See why here).
Now that we know more about the formation of the Montessori Method, we can begin to discuss what role music plays in it!
Remember, the focus of Montessori learning is not on the curriculum but rather the child. Children naturally like to move, dance, and wiggle, and music is absolutely perfect for that. Because music is a real aspect of everyday life, it is an excellent way to introduce children to various learning subjects. Music helps children learn language and speech skills, develop movement and coordination, explore other cultures, and so much more!
What Principles are Emphasized in Montessori Programs, Particularly with Music?
Maria Montessori based her learning model on three beliefs: purposeful scheduling, instructional strategies, and the qualities of the children. While many other learning strategies have a “cookie-cutter” mold for each student to learn from, Dr. Montessori realized not every child would fit the standard mold.
Students who were unable to reach standard educational goals were labeled as “slow.” Dr. Montessori believed these children simply needed a model of their own to learn from. She believed that all children have the potential to learn. To help every child reach their potential, teachers need to prepare an intentional learning environment beforehand (purposeful scheduling).
Additionally, the teacher should only guide the learning experience not lead it. Teachers must help children develop critical thinking skills (instructional strategies) by tapping into the child’s inner desire to learn, grow, and develop (qualities of children).
Dr. Montessori believed that the environment children learn in plays a large role in their development. Learning environments should be calm, peaceful, and connected with nature (where applicable). These themes can be observed through every aspect of the Montessori Method, including in music. By following these principles, the Montessori Method works to help children develop their spirit, mind, and body to their complete capability.
In Montessori schools, music is not seen as a side topic. Rather it is treated like the more academic subjects, as essential for a child to learn.
Montessori schools foster creativity as a form of critical thinking in children. Music is a phenomenal way to encourage children to be creative and to express themselves. Teachers will support and encourage children to pursue their musical ambitions; however, children mostly learn music through experimentation.
Learning music with the Montessori Method is a hands-on experience. Since children learn best through their senses, the more senses that are stimulated, the better the learning. Rather than letting children just hear music, they see the notes and lyrics, they feel the instruments in their hands, they hear the rhythm in the song, and they sing along with it. Learning music uses nearly all of a child’s senses!
Music also encourages the development of the mind, spirit, and body. We will discuss this concept more later on.
What Did Maria Montessori Say about Music?
Dr. Maria Montessori was incredibly enthusiastic about using music when teaching children. However, she did have some reservations.
Learning music requires silence and listening skills. Students hear the different variations of sound and train their ears to identify the different tones. This skill is developed with a learning tool called the Montessori bells. Montessori bells slightly differ in tone. As children ring them, their ears become more accustomed to the variations in sounds.
“Every human group loves music. Each creates its own music, just as it does its own language… Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.”The Absorbent Mind and “Education for a New World” by Dr. Maria Montessori
However, as we all know, it is incredibly difficult to teach young children to stay quiet and to pay attention to such minute details. While it is difficult to create the proper environment to cultivate such fine skills, Montessori still believed music should play a large role in early childhood education.
“The rigorous scientific education of the sense of hearing is not practically applicable to the didactic method. This is true because the child cannot exercise himself through his own activity as he does for the other senses. Only one child at a time can work with any instrument producing the gradation of sounds. In other words, absolute silence is necessary for the discrimination of sounds… Success [in music education] is bound up with the need for the production of plenty of music around the child, so that there is set up an environment calculated to develop musical sense and intelligence.”“The Discovery of the Child” by Dr. Maria Montessori (Source 2)
While it can be difficult to keep children quiet, music has the remarkable ability to keep children engaged for long periods of time. Because music extends their relatively short attention spans, it is well worth any challenge it creates. In other words, the benefits of teaching children music outweigh the troubles it causes at the moment.
Throughout Dr. Montessori’s studies, she learned that music was a crucial part of early childhood education. Not only should music be taught independently, but it should be used to teach other subjects as well. She decided that music should play a part in every aspect of learning.
Dr. Montessori’s husband felt similarly about music. Like Maria, he explained that music was a fundamental part of society. Each group of people or nations experienced music differently and taught their ancestral songs to their children. These songs no doubt had a significant impact on the children’s learning abilities later on.
“Music… formed part of the sacred heritage that each group…transmitted to their children.”“Man’s Spiritual Expressions: Language and Music” by Mario Montessori (Source)
Where Maria Montessori Researched Music Education, What Does the Research Say?
Seeing the child as a “whole” has been a principle in the Montessori Method since it first began, and music has been proven to benefit the child as a whole. As previously mentioned, music is a phenomenal way to encourage children to be creative and express themselves.
When children utilize and manifest their inner creativity through music, they come to understand themselves better. Music can even help children develop greater self-esteem, which is remarkable and will bring many benefits.
Children who learn with music are more prepared to problem solve, have increased motivation, increased spatial abilities, and they develop other skills that will help them throughout their life.
Music even assists with brain development! Toddlers and young children rapidly develop new nerve connections in their brains. As children listen to and create their own music, new nerve connections are formed. Forming these pathways early on has a significant benefit for learning later on. These pathways unlock the child’s ability to develop reading, writing, and math skills.
As mentioned earlier, music encourages hands-on learning and learning through the senses. When a child uses their senses to learn, they develop not only their mind, but their spirit and body as well. Music education truly does bring wonders!
The first few years of a child’s life are crucial for learning from music. At this time, children are most sensitive to new sounds and patterns. After their brain forms pathways relative to the sounds and patterns, it can become commonplace to the child. Children will benefit most from music education early on.
Music does not stop having a positive effect on learning after elementary education. Music assists children with academics as they develop reading, writing, and math skills. Greater exposure to music education can predict higher performance in school later on. More specifically, these children score higher in science and math on standardized tests. Even adults can benefit from music education!
Students with more exposure to music education tend to be more confident, more focused, and more motivated to learn other subjects. Additionally, it has been found that children involved in Montessori programs have a stronger auditory sense and better concentration than children who are not.
That is likely because Montessori programs emphasize the use of the five senses. Montessori children develop sensory skills that are more advanced than children normally have. Not to mention, intellectual and sensory skills are not the only way a child benefits. They also have increased emotional, physical, and social skills.
What Does Music in Montessori Programs Look Like Today?
Music plays a role in nearly every part of Montessori education. But as an individual subject, how is it taught?
Music teachers start by teaching the group as a whole. The teacher will demonstrate how to use an instrument or sing a note while the children watch silently. The instructor will complete the task multiple times and then ask the children to do the same. This same process is repeated with the students individually.
Each student’s learning schedule (referred to as a plan book in Montessori education) has time dedicated to practicing their instruments.
The goals of Montessori music education are to develop literacy, listening, singing, playing, movement, and ear training skills.
One tool commonly used in Montessori music is the Montessori Bells. As mentioned earlier, each bell slightly differs in tone. As children listen to the different bells, they train their ears to distinguish sounds.
Much of the music curriculum for Montessori programs is based on the pedagogies of Kodály, Orff, and Dalcroze. These instructional methods teach children to hear and interpret music differently.
When learning music through the Montessori method, children are encouraged to learn independently or in a group—whichever suits the child best.
There is a variety of musical activities children participate in. The more diverse the activities are, the more the child will learn. Children are only capable of remembering 24% when they hear, 40% when they see, and 70% when they participate in activities that stimulate multiple senses.
Music in the Montessori learning model encourages children to develop self-expression, basic hearing skills, hand-eye coordination, and so much more. No matter your child’s current learning method, incorporate music into the curriculum. They will benefit greatly, and you will never regret it.
All Sources: National Association of Music Education, Montessori Services, Step by Step Montessori Schools, The Montessori School, Eric Education and Research, Journal of Montessori Research Volume 6 Issue 1, Making Music in Montessori, Vernon Hills Academy, Montessori Mozarts, Red Orbit, and Every Star is Different