- (Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence)
Montessori education is a flow experience; it builds on the continuing self-construction of the child-daily, weekly, yearly-for the duration of the program. It is an uninterrupted series of learning passages, a continuum based on Maria Montessori’s theory of the Four Planes of Development. In Montessori’s metaphorical language, “the successive levels of education must conform to the successive personalities of the child.”
The prepared environments for the successive age levels are a series of articulated spaces that also constitute a continuum. Unfortunately, in the evolution of a Montessori school, it is all too easy to conceptualize the development continuum on a segmented basis: First, perhaps, comes the preschool, then the elementary, probably followed by an infant community and topped off by an adolescent program. Buildings may be designed segment by segment, without a concept of the whole. Teachers are trained segment by segment, each focused on his or her respective level.
The Montessori infant program has several components that offer a wide variety of options and opportunities for involvement by parents.
The Parent-Infant Class provides an environment in which parents and children interact alongside a Montessori-prepared adult who uses the environment to facilitate their interaction. Caregivers are taught how to observe what their babies do in order to know what materials to offer them. The parent and child attend a two- hour classroom session once or twice a week. The group has a limit of ten parent / infant combinations with two trained staff. A once-a-week, two-hour session, held in the afternoon without babies, involves presentation and discussion.
The Nido (Italian for “nest”) accommodates no more than nine children from two months to fourteen months of age with an adult-to-child ratio of one to three. It includes a movement area equipped with customized stands, stairs, and bars for pulling up; a quiet sleeping area with individual mats; an eating area equipped with child-sized tables and chairs instead of highchairs; and a physical care area for bathing, changing, etc.
The Infant Community (sometimes called “Toddler Community” or “Young children’s Community”) serves children who are comfortably walking (approximately age fourteen months) to age three, in a small and intimate group of twelve children and two trained staff persons. It has two-program options, either half-or full day. The environment conforms to the physical needs of the children, both in the size of the furnishings and in the opportunities for motor development. There is an observation area for adults, minimal furniture, tiled floors, maximum natural light, selected art placed low on the walls, and defined spaces to challenge coordination of movement.
The Montessori preschool classroom, or Children’s House, is a “living room” for children. Children choose their work from among self-correcting materials displayed on open shelves, and they work in specific work areas. Over a period of time, the children develop into a “normalized community,” working with high concentration and few interruptions. Normalization is the process whereby a child moves from being undiscipled to self-disciplined, from disordered to ordered, from distracted to focused, through work in the environment. The process occurs though repeated work with materials that captivate the child’s attention. For some children this inner change may take place quite suddenly, leading to deep concentration. In the Montessori preschool, academic competency is a means to an end, and the manipulatives are viewed as “materials for development”.
In the Montessori preschool, five distinct areas constitute the prepared environment:
The preschool environment unifies the social, physical, and intellectual functioning of the child. Its important function is to provide children with an early and general foundation that includes a positive attitude toward school, inner security and a sense of order, pride in the physical environment, abiding curiosity, a habit of concentration, habits of initiative and persistence, the ability to make decisions, self-discipline, and a sense of responsibility to the other members of the class, school, and community. This foundation will enable them to acquire more specialized knowledge and skills throughout their school career.
The phrase “all-day Montessori” is an attempt to show the difference between a Montessori approach and what is commonly thought of as “day care”. It refers to one (usually ages 3-6) classroom of Montessori children who stays all day, from early in the morning until early evening. The “all-day space” may have a full Montessori prepared environment (about 1000 square feet), a second space for naps (500 square feet), informal living and large motor activity space, and a developed outdoor environment including a garden.
“All-day Montessori” directly contrasts the “before-and after-school” approach, which tends to place children from different classes into a multi-purpose space with a few toys, entirely separate from the Montessori prepared environment.
The all-day environment should incorporate the following principles:
The elementary program offers a continuum built on the preschool experience. As in the pre-school, the Montessori materials are a means to an end. They are intended to evoke the imagination, to aid abstraction, to generate a world view about the human task and purpose. The child works within a philosophical system, asking questions about the origins of the universe, the nature of life, people and their differences, and so on. On a factual basis, interdisciplinary studies combine geological, biological and anthropological science in the study of natural history and world ecology. The environment reflects a new stage of development and offers the following:
Studies are integrated not only in terms of subject matter but in terms of moral learning as well, resulting in appreciating and respect for life, moral empathy, and a fundamental belief in progress, the contribution of the individual, the universality of the human condition, and the meaning of true justice.
Unlike the other Montessori age levels, there is at present no international consensus defining Montessori secondary education. Maria Montessori’s vision of a residential farm school for ages 12 to 18 has yet to be realized (see “The Erdkinder Vision” in this chapter’s FYI articles). What follows is a composite of the programs of several existing school-based Montessori middle schools (usually ages 12-15).
Middle school ushers in a new level of independence that must be provided for in the Montessori environment by increasing activity from the point of view of work level, choices, and planning. In the middle school, the Great Lessons, timelines, and charts are replaced with overviews of general sequences of learning for which the student becomes responsible in the context of an integrated whole. Within this overview, the student has open time to collaborate on both self-initiated and instructor-initiated projects. Open time allows for individualized instruction, a natural pace for absorption of material presented for both mastery and emotional understanding, unlimited depth of pursuit based on student interest, and ample time to study art, science, music, business, and other topics students choose.
Adolescent programs characteristically have discrete spaces for specialized activities: photo lab, science lab, stage, art room, and lesson rooms all adjacent to open space that unifies the side rooms.
The following curriculum areas are offered in a school-based Montessori middle school: