Dr. Montessori developed her educational practices scientifically, through observation and experimentation. She noticed that children of different ages had different needs and tendencies, and determined therefore, that the methods and practices of education should change with the children. Rather than fight the laws of nature, Montessori suggested that we “follow the child” and allow our children to show us how to facilitate the development of their fullest potential.
The Montessori School of Oakton currently offers two levels of education:
Since the child’s body and mind are different in each of these age groups, the specific educational methods differ as well. But any visitor will see some common, consistent features across the curriculum.
- A variety of ages
- Montessori schools have multi-age classrooms, generally encompassing a three-year age span. Older students teach younger students, both through modeling and through active assistance with lessons and work; both sides benefit, both academically and socially. Primary classrooms (ages 3-6) generally involve much more one-on-one focus with the teacher, in keeping with the more solitary, self-centered explorations that characterize the child of this age. When the child reaches the Elementary class (6-12), a grouping instinct has taken hold, and classroom activities actively encourage cooperative work.
- Freedom and discipline
- Freedom of movement and free choice of activities are important features in any Montessori classroom. Rather than sitting in even rows with everyone focused on a single activity, students disperse to work tables or areas and work on a variety of activities simultaneously, with the teacher observing or moving among them. Such freedom however can not be allowed to infringe on the experience of other classmates. Children in Montessori classrooms are guided by basic ground rules and lessons of grace and courtesy to develop self-discipline and respect for others.
- Grace and Courtesy
- Grace and courtesy are vital everyday living skills that children need in this world. Interpersonal skills and ethics are taught from the beginning of a child’s Montessori experience. Even the youngest child is treated with dignity and respect. In a Montessori classroom the children constantly see others working courteously with one another. Their natural tendency is to do the same thing. They quickly learn that respect for other classmates should guide their movements and work choices, and in return they will be treated with the same respect. Over the years Montessori students accept more responsibility and handle themselves in a wide variety of situations. Learning how to live and work together in a peaceful caring community is an important skill that is offered to Montessori children.
- Students in Montessori classrooms are characterized by focus and concentration. Rather than being directed by an adult, Montessori students are encouraged to select activities that correspond to a particular interest or developmental need. Dr. Montessori observed that deep concentration emerged when children were involved in activities that were of appropriate interest and level of challenge.
- Montessori Materials
- One key element of Montessori philosophy was the observation that children learn most effectively through concrete experience and self-discovery. Children need to manipulate and explore everything that catches their interest. This led Dr. Montessori to the development of concrete learning apparatus – the Montessori Materials. The materials are the tools we use to stimulate logical thought and discovery. They are carefully designed to appeal to children at a given level of development. Each material isolates and teaches one thing or is used to present one skill at a time as a child is ready. The materials are displayed on open shelves that are easily accessible and uncluttered.
- Three Hour Work Cycle
- Another key element of Montessori classrooms are large blocks of uninterrupted time for a child to work, develop concentration and achieve internal satisfaction. The Montessori classroom is vibrant and dynamic, with each child choosing an activity, completing it and returning it to the shelf. After the successful completion of a task, there is a period of self-satisfaction and reflection, a period of rest. Then the child chooses another activity. During a work period a child typically chooses three or four familiar activities, each lasting 15 to 20 minutes and then enters a period of restlessness. (Montessori called this “false fatigue”) When allowed to wait out this period of restlessness, the child will then select an activity of greater challenge and concentrate on that activity for as long as an hour. Montessori noticed at the end of that period of concentration the child experiences a period of great calm. Completion of this type of work cycle gives the child a sense of satisfaction and the desire to do more work. A three hour period of time is necessary to provide opportunity for completion. When a three hour work period is provided and protected, we see the level of children’s concentration, independence and accomplishment increase.