“Free choice is one of the highest of all the mental processes.”
Montessori is a scientifically based education approach that emphasises independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological, physical, and social development. It was developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori.
Montessori education is based on the belief that all children are unique individuals, that they all have immense potential, that they want to learn and be busy. Therefore the teacher needs to guide each child through the learning process by using materials that fit their specific needs and pace.
A Montessori education is based on the seven principles:
Learning and well-being are improved when children have a sense of control over their lives. Although Montessori programs impose definite limits on this freedom, children are free to make many more decisions than are children in traditional classrooms: what to work on, how long to work on it, with whom to work on it, and so on.
Recent research in psychology has proven that order in the environment is indeed very helpful to learning and development. Montessori classrooms are very organized, both physically (in terms of lay-out) and conceptually (in terms of how the use of materials progresses).
Your gut feeling is right: Research has shown that when people learn with the goal of doing well on a test, their learning is superficial and quickly forgotten. Children (and yes, adults, too) learn better when they are interested in what they are learning.
LEARNING FROM PEERS
Children in Montessori classrooms learn by imitation models, through peer tutoring, and in collaboration. In mixed age classes, younger children learn from older ones by asking them questions while watching them work. Older children who are teaching younger children repeat and consolidate their knowledge and skills and obtain social skills.
Our brains evolved in a world in which we move and do, not a world in which we sit at desks. Movement and cognition are closely entwined. Education, therefore, would involve movement to enhance learning.
Rather than learning largely from what teachers and texts say to them, children in Montessori programmes learn largely by doing. Because they are doing things, rather than merely hearing and writing, their learning is situated in the context of actions and objects. For example, children go out of the classroom and into the world to research their interests.
Montessori teachers provide clear limits but set children free within these boundaries. They sensitively respond to children’s needs while maintaining high expectations. This kind of ‘authoritative parenting’ seeks a middle ground between a traditional, authoritarian attitude (“Do it because we say so”) and an overly permissive, child-centered approach of other progressive schools.
Based on: ‘Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius’, Angeline Stoll Lillard (2005), Oxford University Press; Frequently Asked Questions, Montessori St Nicholas; ‘Reach Further: Montessori education for the over fives – learning for life and living to learn’, Montessori St. Nicholas; FAQs, The International Montessori Index; FAQ, American Montessori Society