FRESH ROOTS Montessori is a pre-school for children in the age group of 2 ½ - 6 years. This section will enable you to get acquainted with the method applicable to this age group- the origin, features and benefits of the method.
Dr. Maria Montessori and her research workThe Montessori Method is named after its founder Dr. Maria Montessori. Born as Maria Tecla Artemesia Montessori in 1870, she was the first woman to practise medicine in Italy. As a doctor and research scientist, she used to interact with children and then got interested in child development. By 1927, she had developed the Montessori Method. The first House of Children (school) was set up by Dr. Montessori in San Lorenzo, Rome. The method began to take shape in this 'Casa dei Bambini' (Italian for 'House of Children'). Later, she developed the method based on an extensive research involving children from different social, economic, geographical and cultural backgrounds.
Features of Montessori Method
The Montessori approach aims at helping young children learn by taking into consideration their natural abilities and interests at a particular age. This coupled with a nurturing environment of respect and freedom makes the learning process enjoyable and hence effective.
Learning during 'Sensitive Periods':Dr. Montessori observed that during the course of development, the child exhibits a natural desire to learn specific skills at certain periods of time. These periods are called sensitive periods. For instance, it is common to see a child who has just learnt to climb the stairs, repeat the activity several times with great fascination. In due course, he masters the same. Once he has mastered it we do not notice such a repetition. The child thoroughly enjoys the process during the Sensitive Period. The Montessori Method takes advantage of these 'Sensitive Periods' to help the child acquire various skills (including reading, writing, counting etc).
Learning through hands and senses:
Dr. Montessori often compares the mind of the young child to a sponge. The mind absorbs information from the child's environment through his hands and senses in a manner which brings great joy to the child.
The Montessori environment allows for this exploration through purposeful activities which are well within the understanding of the child. The learning materials as well as the furniture in the Montessori classroom are physically proportionate to the child's size and are readily available at his/her reach. These materials are specially made and invite the child to learn at his/her own periods of interest and at a time when he/she is ready to learn.
Facts over fantasy
The rhymes and stories that are offered to the children for the 2 ½ - 6 year age group are fact-based and meaningful. The fantasy-based stories are introduced after 6 years.
The rationale behind this is that children between 2 ½ - 6 years are eager to explore the world they have newly come into. Parents and teachers are their gateways to information and children have complete faith and trust in them. We cannot fail them by showing them concepts which are not true (like animals behaving and dressing like humans). As the pre-schooler has limited power of imagination, fantasy-based stories also cannot be introduced to them.
Independence through freedom:
The Montessori program allows a lot of freedom for speech and movement (including carrying, walking, pouring, lifting, etc). At the same time, there are ground rules to be followed in the environment.
There is a busy hum of activity in a Montessori environment. Despite this, there is discipline in terms of all the children completing the activity they have chosen to do; proper winding up after completion, talking in low voices, not disturbing other children at work, waiting for a particular material if the same is being used by another child, etc.
Mixed Age Groups:
In a Montessori classroom, children from age 2 ½ years to 6 years are all in the same environment. This mixed age group fosters an environment of care and admiration.
The older children take care of the younger ones, helping them understand the rules of the environment and comforting them when they are upset. The younger ones look up to the older ones with admiration as they feel that they can also perform more complex activities when they grow bigger. They ask for explanations about certain activities that the older ones are doing and they get replies that are easily understood by them. What an adult may struggle to explain, a 5-year old can do it easily because his mind can relate better to the mind of a 3-year old. These are some of the advantages of a 'mixed' age group environment.
Role of the adult (teacher):
The role of the adult in a Montessori environment is based on the concept of the child being 'guided and set free'. Guidance and freedom go hand-in-hand.
The adult guides the child in using the materials and allows him the freedom to work at his development at his own pace. Each child is shown the method of working with each material on a one-on-one basis. They are called presentations. There are some topics/ concepts which are presented to the children in groups. The adult also monitors their performance and keeps track of their progress.
The activities in a House of Children are broadly divided into four areas:
Exercises of Practical Life (among other things, it leads to the refinement of motor co-ordination, lengthen the span of concentration, instils good working habits)
Sensorial activities (children learn about all that can be experienced through their senses- colours, shapes, dimensions, weights, tastes, smells etc)
Language (based on the phonetic method, the language program begins with the development of the spoken language and eventually the children learn writing and reading skills)
Arithmetic (helps in understanding the concept of counting and the basic operations. This is initially through activities with materials and eventually with only writing materials)