Explaining Preschool Philosophies: Montessori Education
This week, in our series on early childhood education approaches, we explore Montessori education, with help from Swati Popat Vats, an educator and president of the Early Childhood Association, an advocacy group that seeks to coordinate early learning stakeholders in India.
Montessori is popular around India, but because the name is not trademarked and any school can use it, it’s impossible to know if you are truly getting a school that adheres to the principles of this method. This introduction to the Montessori philosophy will help you spot the real deal amid the academic-focused, play-based and alternative preschools.
The Montessori education
Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator, developed this philosophy, which promotes independence and choice.
In Montessori education, kids learn at their own pace by observing their older peers. Teachers provide minimal input beyond demonstrating activities, offering broad guidance and supervising. Children may also learn through interacting with developmentally appropriate playthings and specific Montessori materials, which are intuitively educational toys.
The aim of a Montessori preschool is to develop the foundational understanding and skills necessary for grasping more advanced concepts or activities. For example, kids might engage in developmentally appropriate, everyday activities like buttoning, pouring or lacing shoes, which develop the same fine motor skills needed to later perform the more advanced task of writing. While children are taught to recognize and trace letters, the focus is on understanding, not memorising, language.
Montessori teachers must be certified by one of the internationally recognized Montessori organisations, such as AMI.
Most Montessori classrooms allow space for free movement. You’ll see children, ages 2½ to 6, in mixed age groups to allow older/more advanced children to help younger kids.
Learning proceeds at an individualised pace and promotes skills and intuitive learning, which allows children to become independent and responsible. Additionally, peer learning, a hallmark of the Montessori education, is believed to decrease bullying.
The unstructured, exploratory environment of a Montessori classroom may not suit every child’s personality. Similarly to children coming from a Play Way background, the transition to formal instruction in primary school might be a challenge for Montessori students used to learning through imitation and trial-and-error.
And some critics argue that, despite the classroom freedom to choose which activities to work on, the materials themselves create set patterns children must follow.
As mentioned, the term Montessori is not trademarked and anyone can use it. In India, the practical implication of this is that most Montessori preschools don’t incorporate peer learning through mixed age groups, Vats says.
She suggests gauging a school’s adherence to the philosophy by (a) asking how much importance is given to free play, (b) asking teachers if they are aware of the sensitive periods of child development as defined by Maria Montessori.