As HRH Prince George trots off to his new Montessori nursery, we explore what it means to choose a Montessori education.
The main ethos of a Montessori education is its child-led learning approach. Developed by Dr. Maria Montessori in the early 20th Century, it believes that children should be able to choose what they do and how they learn within a ‘prepared educational environment’. It encourages a hands-on experience, with a strong emphasis on practical ways of learning. Classes may contain a range of ages so that the younger children learn from the older ones, equally, the older children reinforce what they have already learned by teaching the younger ones.
Specific teaching equipment is also a hallmark of the Montessori method. Most of the equipment is wooden or at least aesthetically pleasing. Number beads and rods are used to help children with counting, whilst sandpaper letters are used to help children understand letter form; they trace their fingers over the raised shapes so that they can appreciate the feel of it, in addition to just seeing it. This fundamental teaching approach underpins much of the Montessori method, where multiple ‘perceptions’ and ‘experiences’ are used to reinforce teaching and to enhance learning.. There is a strong emphasis on the practical, particularly with regards to life lessons – not least, in learning to be self-reliant and independent.
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The teacher’s role within Montessori is to act less as a leader and more as a guide. Generally, when the children are in their ‘work cycles’, the nursery will be quiet and calm. In these periods a child becomes totally immersed in what he or she is doing and the teacher is there as a support to the child always available to encourage, but not necessarily to provide rote solutions.
Nowadays, there are many adaptations of the Montessori education approach and while adhering to its basic principles, many nurseries may not follow pure Montessori methods. Some schools might have ‘Montessori rooms’, a Montessori regime for a period of time during the day. The use of information technology is not a Montessori practice and therefore some nurseries have chosen to opt out of pure Montessori methods for a more mixed approach. So while there may be Montessori equipment in one room, there could well be a white board and computers in another. Similarly, dressing up and role-playing are not considered to be part of the traditional Montessori method; instead, children are encouraged into reality-based play where they will actually cook rather than pretend to cook, for example. Again, some nurseries will have a dressing up room on the side. There is nothing right or wrong between Montessori purist schools, that follow the Montessori method to the letter and more liberal schools that incorporate a less rigid interpretation. There are strong arguments for both.
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Montessori, in all forms is a delightful, creative and inquisitive curriculum that has a huge support base across the world.
Good luck to Prince George and his first steps on the educational ladder!
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