In many approaches to pedagogy, children are object of the learning process. The adult teacher or instructor is thought to be the source of knowledge, and the children are the empty vessels into which that knowledge is poured. The Montessori Method, however, takes a different approach. In the Montessori Method, children are seen as the directors of their learning, and the adult teachers as guides and supports. This shift puts children at the center of their education and allows teachers to meet them where they are. In order to foster child-centered learning, the Montessori Method outlines five principles that guide teachers in their primary, lower, and upper elementary Montessori programs: respect for the child, the absorbent mind, sensitive periods, the prepared environment, and self-education.
Respect for the child
Maria Montessori was an experienced educator and the originator of the Montessori Method, which is practiced worldwide in thousands of classrooms, and her work and scholarship in education garnered much acclaim in her lifetime, including a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Montessori felt, in general, traditional education methods do not respect children. She posits, instead, that adults and educators can demonstrate the kindness we wish to cultivate in children by helping them do and learn for themselves, leading children to develop the skills and abilities necessary for independence.
The absorbent mind
This principle is based on the notion that children are born learning. Simply by living and interacting with the world around them, children are acquiring knowledge. The absorbent mind of children can be encouraged and shaped by the teachers, experiences, and the environment around them and together they create exceptional learning systems.
In her work, Montessori observed that children experience periods in their development when they are sensitive to adopting certain behaviors and learning specific skills more readily. These sensitive periods are experienced by all children, but the order in which they present themselves or the age at which they are experienced varies for each child. For Montessori teachers, this means their job is to ascertain where a child is in their development and assist them in acquiring the skill or behavior that they are particularly apt to learn at that time.
The prepared environment
The Montessori classroom is a specially prepared environment that promotes a child’s freedom of choice. The space is orderly and accessible, with all amenities and learning tools within reach. Children are encouraged to navigate the room autonomously, meeting their own needs and exploring the materials as their interest guides them. The prepared environment makes children active, engaged participants in learning.
In the right conditions, children can educate themselves. Given a thoughtfully prepared environment, authentic freedom of choice, and respect for who they are and what they can do, children will develop a life-long love of learning.