Understanding Montessori

Montessori education is very different in theory and execution from traditional public school. Maria Montessori based her entire practice on the physical, psychological, and developmental needs of children within stages she called “Planes of Development,” instead of setting up a sequential curriculum that gets all areas taught by the end of the senior year in high school. Specific areas of study fit these developmental stages, and the presentation of materials is geared toward each child’s physical ability to get the most out of the materials.

On this website, under the topic of “Montessori Curriculum,” we have aligned traditional Montessori curriculum to standards-based curriculum found in traditional public schools here in Arizona and more broadly in most districts throughout the US. Although there is complete alignment of all subject areas, there is an “uneasy” correspondence, not because of the material covered, but because of misaligned timing that is a consequence of the emphasis on typical testing such as AIMS and Stanford 10, which are routinely given nowadays.

Montessori uses an educational model where presentations are given with an overall “big picture” approach. She believed that for children who are approaching, or newly reaching, complex thinking and logic skills, the overview approach – which relates information to what the child already knows – makes other information fit into the picture in an easier way. Subsequent lessons fill in the details as a broad range of subjects are related to each big topic. Montessori covers, in this detailed manner, many more “subjects” than are generally part of traditional education. Not only are additional subjects covered in an organized and rational method related to 5 “GREAT LESSON” stories, but they are repeated, expanded, and enhanced as the students progress over their years in Montessori and their ability to process the information gets more sophisticated. At the lowest (youngest) levels many lessons are presented as basic stories in the most fundamental way, with a combination of stories and manipulatives being typical.

Montessori education, at its most basic level, is child centered. The premise is that all children want to learn and please the adults around them. The teacher-adult role then becomes supportive, more of an advisor, mentor and facilitator to the developing child who ideally applies him or her self to exploration and inquiry of the prepared room and provided equipment. This expectation requires a very different mindset than traditional education where the teacher’s responsibility is to continually present curriculum with the expectation that the children will do problems in a book and homework to learn the material. In a Montessori class the children need to be active explorers of the rich environment and learn to focus their attentions on the materials, which teach them the skills they need to learn. Research shows us that people who engage their interests with deep involvement have richer and more productive lives. Montessori education, in this age of many competing distractions, such as TV, video games, and entertainment, engages the child, unlike the more passive modes of entertainment mentioned above and often similar style of traditional education, commonly found in textbooks and lectures. Montessori education develops thinking children who relate concepts and foundational knowledge with its curriculum and manipulatives, when presented at the psychologically and physically appropriate times. This kind of education takes time – years of more and more complex thinking, inquiry, projects, and organization of thoughts.

With trained Montessori staff, parental support of our “non-traditional” approach, and the resources to apply Montessori properly, we can give students a real opportunity to develop to their true highest capacity and go into the adolescent and adult stages of their lives with a true humanitarian outlook – something Montessori called “Cosmic Education.” This concept encompasses not only the academics addressed above, but also the rich practice and application of thinking about the life of others, past and present, who have contributed to our knowledge and, in turn, the responsibility each and every one of us carries into adulthood to preserve and protect life on our planet, be it people, other species, or the very earth itself.