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What is Montessori?

"Monte-who?"..."Monte-what?"..."What is Montessori, anyways?"

I can't tell you how many times I have been asked these questions. It started when I was younger and was asked about the elementary school I attended, then later when I was doing my Montessori teacher training. Now, I get asked these questions at dinner parties, by friends, strangers and parents of potential students (sometimes current students as well!).

People generally have positive thoughts about Montessori. Their neighbour's child goes to a Montessori preschool or they've heard good things but don't know much about it.

Whenever I am asked, the first thing I do is freeze and then panic! Then I get excited and give probably too much information too quickly. I have such a hard time condensing everything in my head into a short explanation. It has been my goal for a long time to come up with an "elevator pitch" of Montessori, so here goes:

12 things to know about Montessori (this originally started as 5 things):

  1. "Montessori" is both a person and a thing! Dr. Maria Montessori was an Italian doctor born in 1870. She challenged gender stereotypes of her time by being one of the first female students to attend medical school and become a doctor. She developed an educational philosophy and method based on her research and observations and the findings of other revolutionary scientists and researchers of her time.

  2. The Montessori method was (and still is) dramatically different from the traditional education system.

  3. The first school opened in a low-income district of Rome in 1906.

  4. The purpose of Montessori is to provide children with the right tools and environment so they can meet their full potential, have a love of learning and be a productive member of their community.

  5. Adults that follow the Montessori method see the child as an individual and provide lessons for that specific child when appropriate.

  6. The Montessori classroom is based on collaboration and not competition.

  7. Independence, self-control, confidence and repetition are not only encouraged, but built into all lessons and materials.

  8. There are over 20,000 Montessori schools world wide.

  9. In Montessori classrooms, children are usually grouped with different aged children. Classrooms are child-centred, very different compared to the traditional classroom with the teacher at the front and children sitting in rows.

  10. There is an understanding and respect of children's psychological development and sensitive periods.

  11. It is possible to implement Montessori philosophy in any environment by following the child, learning about their development and needs and respecting the child as an individual that can reach their full potential with a prepared environment.

  12. The materials and lessons introduced have a purpose, build upon previous knowledge and usually have some form of control of error (so the child knows on their own if they have done it correctly.) The materials are ideally made of natural products and are realistic. Instead of a plastic cup to drink from, an appropriately sized glass is used, for example.

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