The Montessori Method has been around since 1907. If you are trying to get started learning about it, you’ve come to the right place!
The 5 Montessori Principles are as follows: 1. Children are shown respect, 2. Kids have absorbent minds, 3. Sensitive periods are critical for learning, 4. Kids learn best in a prepared environment and 5. Kids can teach themselves through auto education.
If some of those ideas seem abstract or hard to apply, don’t worry! If you’re curious about the Montessori principles and want to use them in your own parenting/teaching strategy, read on for details on each principle and how to apply them!
1. Children Are Shown Respect
Let’s begin by exploring what the Montessori method really is. Developed in the early 1900s by Maria Montessori, it is a child-centered method of education that focuses mostly on child-led activities. Teachers and parents are meant to encourage independence in students of all ages and embrace their individuality.
The first Montessori Principle teaches that respect must be mutual between a child and their parents or teacher(s). This principle is the underlying base for all Montessori practices. It helps parents to embrace what is unique about their child, including whatever that child’s specific needs might be.
By allowing children to go at their own pace and learn what they want to learn (with proper guidance of course), they can develop a good sense of autonomy. Respecting the child means giving them the freedom to make their own choices and concentrate on certain activities. In a semi-structured environment, children are allowed to pursue their own interests in a way that encourages a lifelong love of learning.
2. Kids Have Absorbent Minds
This principle focuses on letting children learn by simply exploring the world they were born into. The first 6 years of life are very important in the Montessori Method because that is the child’s time to develop crucial things like language absorption and basic motor skills. This is when children establish a fundamental understanding of themselves and their world. Kids take in information all the time, no matter how it comes to them or in what form.
Parents are encouraged to maximize learning during those first 6 years. This is the time to instill basic principles and values in your kids. They will learn well at their own pace as long as they receive the necessary guidance.
3. Sensitive Periods Are Critical For Learning
Despite what you may think, sensitive periods do not refer to phases that emotional/hormonal teens might go through, but rather essential milestones in the learning process for children. Most of these sensitive periods involve a child’s interests being concentrated on developing a specific skill or piece of knowledge. This is the primary reason why the first 6 years are so crucial: the most important learning milestones occur during those early years.
According to Montessori theory, there are five categories of milestones that children experience during these 6 years: order, language, sensory skills, movement, and social skills, respectively. How long these periods last really depends on the child and how long they choose to spend developing that area. Sensitive periods are often characterized by mimicking, intense concentration, or repetitive or compulsive behavior.
The Order stage refers to the time from birth up to age five. This is when the child will start to develop reasoning skills, organizational skills, and the ability to understand their environment. This stage can often be characterized by your child acting repetitively and expressing cravings for consistency, routine, and structure. Children might enjoy putting things away or in order as much if not more than playing with their toys during this stage.
The Language stage refers to the child’s developing sensitivity for spoken language, written language, and reading. The sensitivity period for spoken language can start around 7 months and last until 3 years of age. This is when they begin to mimic sounds and mouth movements and develop the ability to communicate verbally.
The sensitivity period for writing usually takes place around age 3 1/2 to age 4 1/2 while the reading sensitivity period starts at 4 1/2 and goes until 5 1/2. Cultivate an environment that is rich in language to best help your child develop this skill. You can do that by speaking clearly to them and with others, singing to them, and reading to them.
The Sensory Skills stage takes place beginning at birth and continuing to age 5. This is when the child really begins to understand and refine their senses. This period can be characterized by a child’s fascination primarily with touch, taste, sight, and smell. The first sensory stage begins at age one and is characterized by the child’s fascination with tiny things and tiny details. It concludes when the child begins to grasp the connection between order and detail. The second stage begins at age 2 and is characterized by the child’s interest and desire to take part in learning experiences that integrate the senses. You can help encourage sensory development by providing activities for your child that will allow them to explore different textures and sights.
The Movement stage can be divided into two stages. These stages begin at birth and then at age 2. The first stage is when the child begins to crawl, pull up, and eventually walk on their own. They also begin to develop their muscles and hand-eye coordination. The second stage begins at age 2 when the child begins to strengthen their grip and hold things with both hands. Playing outside and at the park are great ways to encourage the development of this skill.
Last but not least is the Social Skills stage that begins at age 2. This is the period in which the child begins to learn that they are part of a group. During this period, the child will most likely direct their skills and interests towards groups of people. Cultivating friendships will become more important as well as participating in cooperative play. Teaching your child simple etiquette like saying please and thank you and providing them with ample opportunities to socialize and get to know children their age is a great way to ensure that they develop healthy social skills.
4. Kids Learn Best In A Prepared Environment
A Montessori classroom is an environment that has been designed to greatly optimize learning. It is set up in a way that encourages children to pursue activities and materials of their choice. It gives them the freedom to do things on their own and at their own pace. Teachers should organize it in an orderly yet independent way.
If you want to really encourage Montessori learning in the home as well as in the classroom, set up your child’s bedroom in a similar but comfortable fashion. Provide low open shelves stocked with recreational toys like blocks and manipulatives. Make it easy to move around and have plenty for your child to do. They will optimize the space and the materials if they have easy access.
5. Kids Can Teach Themselves Through Auto Education
Auto education (also referred to as self-education) is the concept that kids know how to educate themselves and learn independently. This is easily one of the most important beliefs/principles employed in the Montessori Method. Montessori teachers are responsible for creating an environment in which their students can do this with ease. They must also provide inspiration, guidance, and the encouragement students need to confidently educate themselves.
Recognizing this ability in children can sometimes be difficult, but it is necessary and healthy to do so. Work and play for children are simultaneous and should be highly encouraged because they are some of the most fundamental aspects of their growth.
How To Employ The Principles: Deciding If Montessori Is Right For You
Now that you have been given a brief overview of the 5 Montessori principles, you probably want to know how to employ them and whether or not the Montessori Method is right for you.
To employ the Montessori Method, you have to be comfortable with a little bit of structure and a good deal of “independent study.” Kids need to go at their own pace and be given enough time to improve in all the aforementioned areas (order, language, movement, etc.).
As with most things, whether or not you employ and enjoy the Montessori Method is really a matter of opinion. For some parents, it is a great way to begin their children’s education and for others, it doesn’t work. To help you understand more fully what Montessori will give you, here are some pros and cons to consider.
One of the obvious pros is the emphasis on hands-on and independent learning. Not only are most Montessori classrooms aesthetically pleasing, but they provide an excellent environment in which children can learn and thrive with nothing more than gentle guidance. They will have the opportunity to go at their own pace and choose the activities that they feel the most drawn to.
Montessori classrooms somewhat blend the ideas of the playroom and the workshop to create a fun, engaging area for kids to grow in. This environment is also ideal for increased social interaction. Children can become interested in not only their own activities but also the activities of other students. This not only encourages great socialization but also enables kids to learn from one another as well.
The Montessori Method also puts a strong emphasis on independence in a great way. It encourages students to be creative and inventive and helps them to develop an entrepreneurial skillset. This helps students to feel not only independent but confident in themselves and their unique abilities too, which helps them to embrace learning and to develop their skills much faster than they would otherwise.
It also instills a love of learning in them because learning has been made to be fun and engaging. This love tends to remain instilled throughout life and not just during their Montessori education. It provides plenty of new and enriching experiences for each student.
Probably one of the greatest perks is that it is inclusive of all needs, including special needs. Montessori is specific to no one kind of child and no one kind of personality. It gives all students the freedom to move at their own pace without feeling the pressure to keep up with others of their age group. Integrating multiple age groups in one classroom helps take this additional pressure off. There is room for all kinds in the Montessori classroom.
Unfortunately, there are also a few cons to be aware of before you start your child’s Montessori education. Here are the most important ones.
One of the first things to consider is how expensive it can be. Part of this is due to the schools needing to invest in so many different kinds of nice, durable supplies as well as teacher training for the proper use of these materials. If you are looking at a school that is fully implemented you can probably expect it to be quite pricey. Additionally, not everyone always has access. Because the Montessori Method is quite different from the public school teaching method, most schools are private and tuition funded with regulated admissions.
Since this is the case, many middle-class and low-income families struggle to afford it. There are over 5,000 Montessori schools in the U.S. and of that 5,000 about 500 are public school programs that are typically more accessible. They tend to be located in diverse, federally-funded areas which removes the tuition barrier.
Another problem that a lot of people have with the Montessori Method is that the curriculum is too loose and not structured enough. Obviously, independent follow-the-child learning is not a bad thing and there is definitely a difference between that and letting your child do anything they want. However, it is definitely less structured than most other educational programs which can be a difficult thing for a lot of people.
Others argue that independence isn’t everything, which of course, it isn’t. Many people worry that if students exercise too much independence they may not learn the importance of collaboration and working in teams later in life (specifically during years of career searching).
Finally, some students find that an open-ended type structure in the classroom to be intimidating rather than inviting or engaging. Young children especially enjoy routine and structure to a certain degree. Some might even find the straight rows of desks in a traditional classroom a somewhat comforting detail. While bothersome, this obstacle can be more easily overcome than the others.
Overall, it is up to you to decide if the Montessori Method is what is best for your children. It is important for you to intentionally choose the way your children will be educated.
Related: Is Montessori good for every child?