Preschool teaching approach---The Montessori Method

2016-09-08 15:21:53

Extracted from Amy Sussna Klein in

Maria Montessori, Italy’s first woman physician, opened her first school in 1907. The first Montessori school in the United States opened in 1911, and by 1916 the Montessori method was found in locations across the world. 

The use of natural observation in a prepared environment by an objective teacher led Montessori to consider her method scientific. After Montessori completed her direct study of children, she specified every particular detail of how the school should be operated to ensure accurate replication. The teacher’s role in a Montessori school is to observe in order to connect the child with the suitable materials (Goffin, 2001).

Two main branches of Montessori method have developed: the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and the American Montessori Society (AMS). The Association Montessori Internationale was founded in 1929 by Montessori, herself, to maintain the integrity of her life’s work and to ensure that it would be perpetuated after her death. Nancy Rambush attempted to Americanize the Montessori method and founded the American Montessori Society (AMS) in 1960. What is most important to note about the two branches is that both are currently in preschools throughout the United States, and both have excellent programs with credentials for teachers. Also, both AMI and AMS support the use of Montessori materials. These learning materials are “self correcting;” they can only be used by a child in one way, thus avoiding the possibility of the child learning the wrong way to use them.

What Are Montessori’s Main Components?


· The link between family and school is important.

· Most Montessori classrooms have multiple age groups, which is intended to give children more opportunity to learn from each other.

· Montessori advocated that children learn best by doing.

· In order to help children focus, the teacher silently demonstrates the use of learning materials to them. Children may then choose to practice on any material they have had a “lesson” about.

· Once children are given the lesson with the material, they may work on it independently, often on a mat that designates their space.


· There is a belief in sensory learning; children learn more by touching, seeing, smelling, tasting, and exploring than by just listening.

· The child’s work as a purposeful, ordered activity toward a determined end is highly valued. This applies both to exercises for practical life and language.

· The main materials in the classroom are “didactic.” These are materials that involve sensory experiences and are self-correcting. Montessori materials are designed to be aesthetically pleasing, yet sturdy and were developed by Maria Montessori to help children develop organization.

· Evans (1971) summarized the preschool curriculum in a Montessori program as consisting “…of three broad phases: exercises for practical life, sensory education, and language activities (reading and writing).” (p. 59)

Environmental Set-Up


· Montessori believed that the environment should be prepared by matching the child to the corresponding didactic material.

· The environment should be comfortable for children (e.g., child-sized chairs that are lightweight).

· The environment should be homelike, so child can learn practical life issues. For example, there should be a place for children to practice proper self-help skills, such as hand washing.

· Since Montessori believed beauty helped with concentration, the setting is aesthetically pleasing.

· In the setting, each child is provided a place to keep her own belongings.

What Is Unique About the Program?
The environment is prepared with self-correcting materials for work, not play. The Montessori method seeks to support the child in organization, thus pretend play and opportunities to learn creatively from errors are less likely to be seen in a Montessori classroom. Chattin-McNichols (1992) clarifies how Piaget, often called the “father of constructivism,” and Montessori both agreed that children learn from errors, yet the set-up in which errors may occur is controlled differently in the Montessori classroom. The didactic, self-correcting materials assist controlling error versus an adult correcting the child.

How Can One Tell If a School Is Truly Following the Montessori Method?
The first step to ensure whether a school truly practices the Montessori method is making sure that its teachers are AMI or AMS credentialed. Not every Montessori school has teachers with Montessori training. 

Although Montessori schools are sometimes thought of as being elitist institutions for wealthy families, this is not true. There are many charter and public Montessori schools. Nor, despite the fact that Montessori began her work with poor special needs children in Rome, are Montessori schools reserved for low -income children with disabilities.

The High/Scope® Approach
High/Scope® was founded in 1970 and emerged from the work Dave Weikart and Connie Kamii did on the Perry Preschool Project. This project, initiated in 1962, involved teachers working with children (three and four years old) a few hours a day at a school, attending staff meetings, and making weekly home visits. The program was developed with the idea that early education could prevent school failure in high school students from some of the poorest areas inYpsilanti, MI (Kostelnik, 1999). The Perry Preschool Program is one of the few longitudinal studies in the early childhood field and had significant findings. For instance, compared with a matched control group, the children that were part of the Perry Preschool Program had significantly more high school graduates and fewer arrests.

The High/Scope Foundation is an independent, nonprofit research, development, training, and public advocacy organization. The Foundation’s principal goals are to promote the learning and development of children worldwide from infancy through adolescence and to support and train educators and parents as they help children learn.

The High/Scope Approach has roots in constructivist theory. Constructivists believe that we learn by mentally and physically interacting with the environment and with others. Although errors may be made during these interactions, they are considered just another part of the learning process. 

Although both Constructivism and the Montessori Method involve learning by doing, there are significant differences. In Montessori, for instance, the didactic, self-correcting materials are specifically designed to help prevent errors. Children learn by repetition, instead of by trial and error. The role of pretend play is also different in the two methods. In High/Scope, children’s creative exploration is encouraged, and this sometimes leads to pretend play, while in Montessori, “practical life work” that relates to the real world is stressed.

Although Constructivism is a theory of learning, as opposed to a theory of teaching, High/Scope has exemplified an approach of teaching that supports Constructivist beliefs. Thus, children learn through active involvement with people, materials, events, and ideas.