The Montessori Method, famous for its emphasis on independence and freedom within limits, began in 1897, yet finds growing significance today. Chicago’s “Morning Shift” recently broadcast a radio program from the Montessori World Conference held within city limits earlier this year.
Observation of the child is discussed as the key to creating “cooperative, creative, peaceful, independent, and collaborative students.” Rather than “teach” in the traditional sense of the word, Montessori instructors carefully observe their students, shaping classroom learning experiences to fit individual abilities and skills. “Contrary to popular opinion, children don’t like chaos!” states Mary Ellen Kordas, American Montessori Board Chairman. The first thing that strikes most people when they walk in to a Montessori classroom is the “peaceful, cooperative manner with which students independently choose and complete tasks”.
Developmentally-appropriate materials are chosen and displayed in an inviting manner by teachers. This is called “preparing the environment” for learning. Hands-on, discovery-based inquiry remains a hot topic in today’s rapidly changing world. Ms. Kordas urges that the successful 21st Century student “no longer needs to be told what to do next, but needs to be able to anticipate what will happen next”. And respond in a proactive, creative way.
Another core tenet of the Montessori Method, multi-age groupings, is described as being more appropriate than ever in our current world context. Three-year groupings are represented at each level, so that younger children learn by observing their older counterparts, and older students concrete their skill base by re-teaching to younger peers. This arrangement mirrors family life, community functionality, and work environment.
It also fosters mutual respect and leadership. As our world community grows more intimate and widely accessible, children with the skills to interact within different cultures and successfully navigate collaboration will be well-prepared to lead in the future.
While the American Montessori Society Annual Conference brings Montessorian’s from around the world together to generate new ideas and fresh connections, it’s worth remembering the timelessness of Montessori’s core tenets and how they continually strengthen today’s students.