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The Montessori Method

Who was Montessori?

Dr Maria Montessori was born in 1870; she became the first female medical graduate of Rome University, and became a director of a school for children with special educational needs. Here she observed the way in which children learnt best. A few years later she opened the first school for children from the slums of Rome in 1907; this is where she devised her teaching method, from the observations and discoveries of child development she realised children required an environment that supported their interests and development stage.

The Montessori Method.

Montessori felt that for children to grow in self-esteem they needed to work in a child centred environment. Today the environment in the nursery is prepared for the child to move around independently. The furniture is child sized, the equipment such as cups, plates & cutlery is child sized, the shelving and storage of toys and activities are all at the child’s level and equipped with child sized items. Montessori’s ideas grew from close observation of children. She discovered the following needs:

  • To support the joy of learning
  • The need and love of order
  • The need to become independent
  • The need to be respected and listened to
  • Their interest in fact and fiction
  • The Montessori room is divided into areas which naturally follow on from each other, and which the children come back to time and time again. The first is the Practical Life area.

Practical life

This is the area nearest the entrance as it attracts the child to the natural, interesting and familiar activities of everyday life. To an adult these tasks may appear simple because once the skills have been mastered they are carried out automatically, but to a child these tasks bring the chance to learn and develop new skills. Developing Independence, Concentration, Hand-eye coordination, Fine motor skills (palmer, pincer & tripod grasps). The child will experience a sense of self- worth and accomplishment when they are able to do these things for themselves. This area also introduces the child to the idea of using a tray or mat to define their work space. There is also only one set of every activity, this is to teach the children to learn to share and begin to understand that when someone is using something, they will need to wait and the same if they are using something someone else wants the children become aware of others, this helps to develop socialisation. Using the tray or work mat also instils the understanding of respect. Respect for everyone the child meets, the equipment/materials and the environment.

Sensorial

This area introduces the child to their natural environment. As we handle and touch the things around us we unconsciously take in information about the size, shape, texture, colour, weight etc of the item. This area has several pieces of material for the child to explore to discover these senses.  Some of the materials also begin to introduce some mathematical concepts.

Numeracy & arithmetic

Montessori observed that mathematics is an abstract concept and therefore needed to make it as concrete as possible for children to be able to understand it. This area uses a lot of hands on equipment to help the child discover numbers and counting. The activities follow a sequence by first introducing the names and order numbers follow, recognising numerals and then discovering quantity. This is taught through the first five activities that make learning enjoyable. Children learn best through play!

Language & Literacy

Children approach language in a different way to adults, if a child enjoys an activity they will absorb the language being introduced through the activity and learning experience. There is no set formula in developing a child interest in language, it may develop through stories, poems or songs or finding out about a favourite topic. Using the child’s interest the Montessori environment provides lots of opportunities to look at written words, listen to language being spoken around them and to them and resources to make marks and begin to link sounds. Once the child becomes interested in letters this is then taught phonetically. Phonics is learning through sounds, we don’t teach the alphabet in A B C… but in the sounds of the letters  a b c…, we also emphasis the sounds for example a for apple using words that sound like the letter not words that don’t for example c for chimney. We usually start with a letter that is familiar to them like the first letter of their name. Then the child will begin to sound out words and begin simple word building. Again this is done using an enjoyable leaning method as mentioned before children learn best through play!

Cultural

This area explores the subjects of Science, Geography and History. The hands on approach provides the child with the materials to answer their own questions and leads them onto further exploration, the child will learn to observe & wait, as well as to understand the processes involved. This increases a sense of wonderment and gives the children a deeper understanding of the world around them.   The child is taught the correct name of things such as Animals – Bull, Cow and Calf, Land forms – Cape and Bay, Countries – England is in Europe etc… not ‘Moo Cow or UK’ the child should learn the correct name so as to not re-learn it later.

Outdoors

The whole ethos of learning is not just contained to the inside environment. Montessori acknowledged that the natural real environment played a key part in children learning and grasping understanding of the world around them. It is important to go on visits to local places of interest, to visit the community like the shops, cafe or library and to explore that natural world outside. Looking for mini beasts, digging in the soils and caring for plants are all important hands on learning activities that again draw the children’s interest and provide deep level learning.

Montessori & the EYFS

So how does the Montessori Method fit with the EYFS criteria, well the answer is very well. Although the methods have different names the principles remain the same, the ideas go hand in hand and the outcomes are set to achieve the same results.  

“The principles identified by Dr Maria Montessori continue to underpin the work of our schools. the EYFS expresses these principles in terms with which Montessorians are very familiar: that each child is unique; that positive relationships from the basis for personal respect supporting learning; that the learning environment has a key role in extending learning and development, and that children learn and develop in different ways and at different rates. The Montessori approach which seeks to provide organised play as a means of promoting specific skills and concepts, is at one with the EYFS view of learning. In particular both see observation of children as central to promoting children’s learning and development.”  (Dr M Bradley, Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage in Montessori Settings, Pg3)

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