Montessori is an educational approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori which is characterized by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological development. Although a range of practices exist, the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and the American Montessori Society (AMS) cite these elements as essential:
- Mixed age classrooms, with classrooms for children aged 2½ or 3 to 6 years old by far the most common
- Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options
- Uninterrupted blocks of work time
- A Constructivism or “discovery” model, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction
- Specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators
The first of these is particularly interesting in light of some older and newer research which suggests that interaction with children of different ages expands the cognitive boundaries of play for youngsters and reinforces leadership and empathetic qualities for older children. Providing uninterrupted (and unstructured, child-led) work (play) time is also in line with other philosophies, like RIE, which encourages minimal interruption and quiet, careful observation as a way of encouraging the growth and development of a child’s attention span and ability to learn how to learn.
Fundamentally, the Montessori educational approach is based on a model of human development which has two basic elements. First, children and developing adults engage in psychological self-construction by means of interaction with their environments. Second, children, especially under the age of six, have an innate path of psychological development and, when they are at liberty to choose and act freely within a prepared environment*, will act spontaneously for optimal development.
I turned to some Montessori sites recently while looking for ideas about age-appropriate chores I could include on our family job chart, and came across this (amazing) list of Montessori inspired activities for preschoolers prepared by Elaine Ng Friis, which features many easy every-day routines like taking care of a baby and cutting. Regardless of how you feel about Montessori education, I think it is an excellent resource for all parents with young children; especially for those rainy days when you find yourself out of ideas about how to entertain the kiddos.
* Standing, E. M. (1957). Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work. New York: Plume. pp. 263–280