The “Montessori Method” was born out of the revolutionary work of Maria Montessori in the early 1900s. Graduating as Italy’s first female physician in 1896, Dr. Montessori was already a woman ahead of her time. But it was her subsequent work with the children of Rome’s institutions and slums that would ultimately bring her world renown. In 1907, Dr. Montessori opened her first Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House), applying to children of normal intelligence the educational methods and materials she had originally developed for special-needs children. Within just a few years, the unprecedented success of this first Children’s House launched a worldwide revolution in childhood education.The basic principle upon which Montessori’s methods evolved is that children are complete beings unto themselves. They are not just adults waiting to happen, but rather, children are created as whole beings with innate intelligence worthy of respect. Some of the concepts developed to support this principle are:
- Child Centered
Dr. Montessori understood the simple yet profound truth that children teach themselves. Education should be centered on the child as opposed to the teacher, making it more important for teachers to observe children than for children to passively observe teachers. This is reflected in the Montessori classroom where teachers are referred to as guides.
Giving children freedom of movement and freedom of choice is key to stimulating their natural curiosity and motivation. Dr. Montessori created a child-centered “prepared environment” that allows a great deal of freedom within well-defined limits. Faced with these reasonable boundaries, children are free to engage imagination, creativity, and resourcefulness.
Dr. Montessori determined that the senses must be engaged for intellect to develop. Therefore, imaginative, hands-on materials specifically designed to stimulate sight, touch, sound, smell, and taste are integral to the Montessori Method. These materials prepare children for learning by capturing their attention and initiating concentration. Each set of materials progresses from simple to complex, concrete to abstract. Development of sensorial skills also provides children an increased awareness of the world around them.
The Montessori materials were originally designed to be self-correcting, thus allowing children to identify and solve their own problems and move forward at their own pace. This serves to develop a child’s focus and concentration while simultaneously empowering them with a sense of satisfaction derived from their own accomplishments. A strong sense of independence also serves as an important precursor to self-esteem.
These ideas serve as the cornerstones of the foundation upon which the Montessori Method is built. “Help me to help myself” is one way that Dr. Montessori tried to concisely express her basic discovery about childhood, its developmental needs, and the child’s unique connection to human development.
The Montessori School of Oak Ridge is dedicated to honoring the true spirit of the Montessori Method by providing a well-prepared environment in which each child’s unique nature is honored and respected. To that end, MSOR strives to foster the integration of each child’s physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual being to become fully developed, self-confident, and independent individuals.
Because the Montessori Method is based on specifically identified “sensitive periods” in the child’s development, children begin school between the ages of 2 ½ to 3 years and remain through kindergarten. Montessori classrooms are designed for this three-year age mix to maximize both individual and social development. Independence and interdependence are cultivated as the more experienced children share what they have already learned with those new to the group. Each child’s unique personality is encouraged and each child is respected as an important member of a community.
The busy, purposeful activity of a Montessori classroom frequently amazes those unfamiliar with it, but much like a beehive, there is a very evident order to what initially looks like chaos. By giving children opportunities to engage in spontaneous, meaningful activities under the guidance of a trained adult, they are free to respond to their natural drive to explore and experience their surroundings, thus encouraging their inherent love of learning.
Morning and Extended-Day Programs
The Morning and Extended-Day Programs include opportunities for exploration in the following areas:
- Practical Life
The practical life activities give the child the opportunity to use his hands and put him in touch with reality and do tasks for himself. These tasks allow the child to learn the common practices of his culture, grow his coordination and movement, and to practice the highest level of movement, grace. The materials for this area are all real items which are also found outside of the classroom in other parts of life, such as cleaning tools, gardening tools or kitchen tools.
- Sensorial Materials
The Montessori classroom includes a variety of unique manipulative (hands-on) materials. Each of these tools is specifically designed to encourage development of a child’s senses by stimulating and refining one or more of the sensory areas. This enables children to build cognitive skills by touching, seeing, smelling, tasting, listening, and exploring the physical properties of their environment. As children gradually integrate each sensorial skill, they build the foundation from which reading, writing, and math abilities evolve.
- Language Development
Language opportunities are abundant in the classroom as children engage in social conversation, hear stories, and learn poetry. Montessori materials such as sandpaper letters and the moveable alphabet further engage a variety of senses enabling children to begin linking sounds with symbols. Fine motor skills are developed through pencil work with metal insets, setting the stage for writing skills which often precede reading in the Montessori classroom.
- Science & Art
As an extension of the sensorial and language activities, the academic curriculum also includes geography, biology, botany, zoology, art, and music. As children learn about people and cultures in other countries, they come to feel a connection to and respect for the global community. Additionally, lessons and experiences with nature inspire a deeper understanding of and reverence for all life. Art and music activities further encourage sensorial integration and creativity.
Again building on sensorial and language skills, children begin to grasp basic math concepts by manipulating concrete materials. Over time, children develop a solid understanding of the math principles that lay the foundation for later abstract reasoning and problem-solving capabilities. It is not uncommon for the kindergarten children to develop a firm grasp of the decimal system simply by “playing” with the Montessori bead chains and other math materials.
- Prepared Environment
The Montessori style of education utilizes a carefully prepared environment for the child. The Montessori prepared environment is one that is calm, ordered, and prepares the child for the rest of his or her life. The classroom is aesthetically pleasing, organized, and child sized as well as being completely functional for the developmental and physical needs of the child. Another important element of the Montessori environment or classroom, is the mixed age community of the children. The variety of ages provides ample means for social interaction and encourages the transmission and skill from one child to another.
Afternoon Enrichment Program
The Afternoon Enrichment Program is offered for the convenience of working parents because young children need a consistent, stable, and nurturing after-school environment to further support their development. Fostering the Montessori philosophies of respect for the child and independence provides a sense of continuity to their day. This also provides an opportunity for children to integrate Montessori concepts into their life outside of the classroom.
Parent Education is offered on several evenings throughout the school year and provides parents with opportunities to learn more about the Montessori Method, share ideas about raising children, and become better acquainted with the school staff and each other. Parent Education also helps establish a spirit of trust, cooperation, and satisfaction – benefits which are less tangible but far more enduring.