As Ontario school systems face an increase in the number of children in one class, more and more parents are looking for alternatives to the larger class sizes. For many, Montessori is an obvious option because of our ratio of student to teacher in much lower. The downside to this is that many daycare facilities, seeking an opportunity, may boast a “Montessori environment” in order to sell parents what they think is a more desirable option.
What many consumers don’t know is that Montessori is not legally branded or patented, which means anyone can open a Montessori school. Daycares that are licensed and follow all of the regulations as laid out by the Ministry of Education may look great to the consumer, and they may have an excellent daycare program, but when terms like “Montessori” or “Montessori style” are being used, that is when we need to look a little closer.
Firstly, reading about Montessori philosophy and applying it to a program is very different than attending Montessori college and learning precisely how to understand and apply the philosophy. The very first question that any parent interested in sending their child to a Montessori program should ask is, “where did your teachers receive their training?” In Ontario, there are three major Montessori training Centres. There is the American Montessori Society (AMS), the Toronto Montessori Institute (TMI) and the Association Montessori International (AMI). All require prospective teachers-in-training to have a minimum 2-year college degree and most prefer a four-year university degree before they can even apply to Montessori college. The Montessori training itself is broken down into separate levels. The first being infant, then toddler. Casa is the next level and that is the 3-6-year-old grouping. The next grouping is 6-9 years, commonly referred to as Lower Elementary, and the Upper Elementary is 9-12 years of age. In larger cities, one may even find a Montessori high school. Each teacher training program consists of the study of the Montessori philosophy and how to apply it, as well as hands-on training with all of the various materials. It takes up to a year or better to complete a level.
The next question parents should ask is, “does the school has any affiliations?” Montessori schools usually are affiliated with one or more Montessori training programs such as AMS, TMI or AMI. All of these programs offer conferences and workshops where we, as Montessori teachers can continue our education.
Who started the Montessori Method? Dr. Maria Montessori was the first woman physician to graduate from the University of Rome. She was a dedicated scientist and educator. She first became involved with education when she treated underprivileged children in the San Lorenzo district of Rome. From her observations and actual experiences with these children, she developed specific materials and an approach to child education that won her world acclaim. Dr. Maria Montessori opened her first school, “Casa Dei Bambini”, (Children’s House), in Rome in 1907.
Maria Montessori felt that children have an “Absorbent Mind”. They are driven from within to effortlessly absorb everything from their environment. If free to learn, children will joyfully select activities that develop their abilities. They are stimulated by the environment around them, and they have a passion to learn. Children should be the pivot of their own education. The prepared environment best fills this need to grow and learn.
The Montessori leader is the dynamic link between the children and the Montessori learning materials. She/he presents the exercises to the children and they, in turn, learn through their repetitive manipulation of those materials. As children begin to develop their inner-selves, their love for learning continuously expands. The Montessori Method is an “approach to learning” and as such, has no distinction of class or intelligence. It has been used successfully in all parts of the world.
In most preschools and kindergartens, a teacher teaches the children educational concepts in a group. In Montessori, children learn by having individualized lessons and then by working independently with specially designed materials in a prepared environment. The children advance through the materials from the simple to the complex, building on what they have accomplished. There is a three-year age mix in each class, so the children can learn from one another and become active role models. The student-teacher ratio is lower than that of other programs, allowing for more individualized learning.
Educators and psychologists agree that intelligence undergoes important development between birth and age six. A child’s mind is extremely absorbent and curiosity is at a peak during these early years. When properly nourished and stimulated, the child forms healthy patterns for a lifetime of learning. The Montessori system has proved to be one of the most effective methods to guide a child through these critical years.
In closing I would urge all parents to visit a Montessori school, take a tour and observe the children. Listen to the hum of the busied students, take note the independence and the joy for learning. I guarantee that you will be amazed by the harmony found in a Montessori Classroom!