How the Importance of Cognitive Development in a Child's Education Compares and Contrasts With Montessori Philosophy and Theories
Maria Montessori’s method and theory have quite inspired me, partly because any child would enjoy coming to a school where it is a place for him or her to work in their own environment. One of the distinctive characteristics of Montessori schools is the way they provide a carefully prepared environment. The schools also provide opportunities for children to grow intellectually and emotionally. Maria Montessori cared a lot about children and children’s education.
Central to Montessori’s method of education is the dynamic triad of child, teacher and environment. One of the teacher’s roles is to guide the child through what Montessori termed the 'prepared environment, i.e., a classroom and a way of learning that are designed to support the child’s intellectual, physical, emotional and social development through active exploration, choice and independent learning. One way of making sense of the Montessori method for the purposes of this review is to consider two of its important aspects: the learning materials, and the way in which the teacher and the design of the prepared environment promote children’s self-directed engagement with those materials. With respect to the learning materials, Montessori developed a set of manipulable objects designed to support children’s learning of sensorial concepts such as dimension, colour, shape and texture, and academic concepts of mathematics, literacy, science, geography and history. With respect to engagement, children learn by engaging hands-on with the materials most often individually, but also in pairs or small groups, during a 3-h 'work cycle' in which they are guided by the teacher to choose their own activities. They are given the freedom to choose what they work on, where they work, with whom they work, and for how long they work on any particular activity, all within the limits of the class rules. No competition is set up between children, and there is no system of extrinsic rewards or punishments. These two aspects—the learning materials themselves, and the nature of the learning—make Montessori classrooms look strikingly different to conventional classrooms. It should be noted that for Montessori the goal of education is to allow the child’s optimal development (intellectual, physical, emotional and social) to unfold. This is a very different goal to that of most education systems today, where the focus is on attainment in academic subjects such as literacy and mathematics. Thus when we ask the question, as this review paper does, whether children benefit more from a Montessori education than from a non-Montessori education, we need to bear in mind that the outcome measures used to capture effectiveness do not necessarily measure the things that Montessori deemed most important in education. Teachers and parents who choose the Montessori method may choose it for reasons that are not so amenable to evaluation.
Montessori viewed learning as a process that emanated from controlling the environment and acquiring knowledge through the use of senses. Montessori believed that every child had Absorbent Mind (Montessori, 1967). The Absorbent Mind enables the child to take the environment as it is and then analyze it. The stages of analysis enabled the child to recall, understand and think. Teachers encouraged children to undertake their own projects and discover their own knowledge. In this processes, children made mistakes. According to Montessori, mistakes enabled children to critically analyze their problems and solve them on their own without any assistance. Feedback from the project itself was useful in acquiring new knowledge. Consequently, teachers avoided identification of mistakes to enable children to do their own self-evaluation. At the same time, teachers gave children the freedom to choose their own materials for their projects. In short, Montessori insisted that knowledge acquisition occurred only through socialization, proper environment, and through practice and mistakes. According to Montessori, the Absorbent Mind forms the basis of how children acquire knowledge. For instance, teachers create encouraging and relaxed environments to provide children with the opportunities to learn on their own through interactions, and in groups. These processes enable children to acquire knowledge from the environment. Therefore, learning must occur in reality, practical and organized environment. Montessori’s theory of opportunity stresses that any child in the society can learn regardless of disability and become a contributing member of the society. Montessori developed this theory when she was working with children with special needs. During that time, society did not provide any education to children with special needs. Montessori proved that these children could learn like other normal children (Morrison, 2009).
To conclude, with no real previous knowledge, apart from being aware that is was an alternative education centre, this study has been extremely interesting and revealing. The credibility of the method is well supported by the founders’ wide academic background allied with her actual experience and observations with both special needs and mainstream children. In this regard, the method is well founded. Although there is a wide range of literature on the subject, acceptance or otherwise of the approach invites further in-depth study, preferably along with hands on experience. As a staff member at an early childhood centre, I can see the potential for the introduction of certain elements, in particular, the use of Montessori didactic materials. Montessori once said she had “discovered the child.” This may well be the key to her method.
Gutek, G. L. (2004). The Montessori Method: The Origins of an Educational Innovation. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Hainstock, E. (1997). The essential of Montessori. New York: Plume Publishing.
Montessori, M. (1967). The absorbent mind. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
Morrison, G. S. (2009). Early childhood education today, 11th ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson.