“These words reveal the child’s inner needs; ‘Help me to do it alone’.” — Dr. Maria Montessori
Each child in a Montessori classroom is treated with respect and dignity and is often addressed by peers and teacher as “friend,” creating an environment of equality rather than of hierarchy. The open floor plan enables unrestricted and independent movement; instead of being forced to sit at a desk all day and ask for permission to get up to use the bathroom or sharpen a pencil, the child is able to naturally engage with his peers, teachers and the fascinating materials which surround him.
Mixed-age grouping and the three-year cycle is another hallmark of Montessori classrooms. This creates a more natural learning environment and allows the child to develop appropriate social skills. Often, older children are able to serve as mentors for younger children, modeling good behavior and teaching them new skills. This empowers the children and cements previously learned concepts, and allows them to feel that they are integral and valued members of a community. Younger children learn to engage with others rather than always relying on the teacher to tell them what to do.
By teaching primary children how to do real-world tasks like pouring water, sewing and tying their shoes, they learn to be self-reliant while increasing hand-eye coordination, concentration and focus.
April Dane, E4 Head Teacher, remarks, “Young children love to do things for themselves because they have figured out that they can — things like walking, eating and playing. It is very physical. It is that wonderful realization that inspires them. At the elementary age they begin to see that not only can they do things for themselves physically like help make meals and dress themselves, but that they can make important choices including how to accomplish their goals and when it is important to complete their work. When the children in our class start realizing they have the power and control to accomplish things, they are so excited and say ‘I finished my goals this week.’ No one can tell them that, they have to experience it.”
Maryam Khadavi, Head Teacher in P3, agrees. “All work described by Dr. Montessori in Practical Life and other areas is to help a child to find his/her independence. She always emphasized that the hand is the chief teacher of the child and by using the hands to complete different tasks, children develop independence and build self-confidence. One of the things I do in my classroom is to give each child a particular project such as greeting the visitors, organizing the classroom, cleaning after lunch and watering plants, along with setting achievable weekly goals. In addition, occasionally I offer older children to select a student from the classroom and teach them three tasks in different areas. This also helps both older and younger children to build self-confidence and social skills.”
This sense of independence extends outside of the classroom into physical education, art, outdoor classroom and more. P.E. Teacher Ms. Angela tells of how excited a young student was after mastering the proper way to hold a lacrosse stick. Says Outdoor Classroom Specialist Ms. Valerie: “We always give the children choices so they can practice independence which allows children to feel empowered. Autonomy breeds spontaneous engagement and cooperation.”
In middle school, students are able to demonstrate what they learn through creative and innovative mediums and often present their projects to their peers, which allows them to develop valuable skills such as leadership, critical thinking, initiative, teamwork, public speaking, research techniques, troubleshooting, personal responsibility, time management and more.
In addition, students of all ages are allowed time for “heart work.” Says Ms. Erica, Middle School Head Teacher: “After they complete their goals and work they can go a step further to something they find really interesting and run with it; it can be something they are learning about in class or not.”
Both Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google Inc., have publicly credited their success as entrepreneurs to their early education in a Montessori classroom. In an interview with ABC News, Google CEO Larry Page remarks “I think that [our success] was part of that training of not following rules and orders and being self-motivated and questioning what’s going in the world and doing things a little bit different.”