Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator. Born in 1870, she developed her method of education over a 45-year period of directly observing and working with children. Her life long study of the child's mind revealed its unique ability to absorb perceptions and knowledge. The child's sensitivity to the environment is the basis for the Montessori Method, which places a great deal of emphasis on preparing an environment where the child can follow and fulfill their inner needs through concrete experiences.
Respect is given to the individuality of the child and so each pupil is given responsible freedom to manifest their inner needs and unique personalities. As success builds upon success, the child gains an inner discipline and the security of a strong self-image. Social interaction, guided by the "collective interest" of the multi-age classroom, adds to his joy and growth.
Dr. Montessori recognized that the most valid and effective incentive to learn comes from the child's own intrinsic motivation. The child is naturally drawn towards learning as he tries to create order and sense out of the impressions he absorbs from the world around him. Slowly but surely, he will gain mastery of himself and his environment. The Montessori prepared environment possesses a definite order and structure which facilitates this process.
The structure of the Montessori learning environment involves the use of many materials with which the child may work independently. These materials were scientifically developed by Dr. Montessori, each with a distinct purposes and defining characteristics. Children can explore and manipulate the materials with their own hands, and through the senses acquire information and knowledge. In the Montessori classroom, children work at their own pace and at their own level of development, in a non-competitive atmosphere where the child is free to choose their own material to work on and is therefore inherently interested in what they are doing. That same interest allows the child to enjoy the process, instilling in them a love of learning.
Furthermore, rather than "teach" a child through the transference of information, the Montessori Directress "guides" the child through their learning process, encouraging them to explore with the materials and reach their own conclusions. The Montessori guide, prepares the environment and functions as the catalytic agent and exemplar for the child's development and growth. Emphasis is places on the child's independence, allowing him to further develop his own physical, intellectual, and social abilities. Dr. Montessori stated that any unnecessary help given to the child hinders his growth.
The basic principle of Montessori is that every child has an immense potential which can only be realized when they are given the freedom to follow and satisfy their inner needs "for it is the child who must develop himself. No one person can do the development of another. The adult can only assist - and cheer from the sidelines. The adult acts as a catalyst, not as a creator, in the child's development of himself."
The freedom that is given to a child in the Montessori classroom is counterbalanced by the "inner discipline" which develops when the child has acquired from experience both physical and mental order. He becomes aware, not only of his freedom, but of his corresponding responsibility to himself and to others. This is the core of Dr. Montessori's philosophy. The aim of Montessori is to develop the whole child, intellectually, physically, and socially. The teacher strives to encourage and guide the child and to help him realize a balanced, happy, aware personality that will enhance his life as an adult.
The Beth Montessori Curriculum is comprised of five distinct areas of concentration:
Practical Life enhances skills and coordination through gross and fine motor tasks. These activities serve to increase children's attention span and encourage task completion.
The Sensorial area helps children develop and refine their senses to discriminate, categorize and explore key concepts.
Mathematics makes use of manipulative materials to enable children to understand abstract concepts of numbers, symbols, the decimal system, mathematical operations, and basic number facts.
Language Arts includes oral language development, written expression, reading, grammar, creative dramatics, and children's literature.
Enrichment activities expose children to music, movement, culture, art and geography.