The Montessori method was developed in a housing project in Italy around the turn of the century. Maria Montessori was asked to direct a school for the children of factory workers in what she called "Casa dei Bambini", or Children's House. She experimented with different approaches, lead by scientific observation, ultimately settling on the idea that children learn better when the learning comes from within. She flip-flopped the teacher-child relationship, putting the child in the spotlight instead of the teacher.
In a Montessori classroom, everything is child-sized, and the children are encouraged and expected to use the space to their full advantage. When they are hungry, they help themselves to food. When they are thirsty, they fetch themselves a glass of water. When something spills, they clean it up. In the same way the children learn to take care of themselves and their classroom, children follow their interests in academic areas. All the tools and materials they need are readily accessible to them to learn and grow very little adult intervention. Children discover concepts through didactic, or hands-on, materials.
This new way of learning gained attention in Italy and around the world. In 1915, the World's Fair even had a glass classroom, where spectators could come see a Montessori classroom in action. What spectators saw were children developing their own capabilities and motivation; they saw the Montessori Method at work. This method stood the test of time! Today, there are about 4,500 Montessori schools in the United States and about 20,000 across the globe.
What are the pillars of Montessori education?
Deep respect for children as individuals
Multi-age classes allow teachers to develop close and long-term relationships with their students, allow them to know each other's learning style well, and encourage older students to become role models, mentors, and leaders to younger students.
Integrated curriculum is carefully structured and connects subjects within programs (e.g., history and cultural arts to maximize the opportunity for learning and builds from program to program to progress from concrete to abstract learning).
Independence is nurtured and leads to children becoming purposeful, motivated, and confident in their own abilities.
Peace and conflict resolution are taught daily and children learn to be a part of a warm, respectful, and supportive community.
The child creates, in a very real sense, the adult that is to be, through his/her experiences, interactions, and environments. Character development is a central focus of the Montessori curriculum.
Hands-on learning is central to the curriculum in all programs and leads to children being engaged rather than passive with their work.
The environments are responsibly and carefully prepared with multisensory, sequential, and self-correcting materials to support self-directed learning.
Self-expression is nurtured in all children. Children experience art, music, poetry, theater, writing, and other forms of creative arts with confidence and passion.