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The Montessori method of teaching is a modern educational movement that encourages teachers to view children and classroom education differently than the common teacher-student relationship. Instead of focusing on academic education, the Montessori method focuses on respecting and encouraging each child's individual differences, providing a nurturing environment to teach social interaction and emotional skills. The Montessori method is most often applied at the pre-school level due to its focus on early child development.
The Montessori method was created in the early 20th century by Maria Montessori, an Italian educator and physician. The philosophical tenet behind the Montessori method is that children each have their own internal guidance for self-directed development. The teacher acts as a guide, watching over the classroom to remove obstacles from learning but not participating as a direct instructor. Lessons given by the teacher often involve how to use or play with the various instructional toys in the classroom.
According to Dr. Montessori, each child develops through several stages, each unique and requiring a slightly different teaching strategy. The first occurs between birth and age six. This stage represents the time when infants, toddlers, and children acquire language and begin to experience the world for the first time. It includes the development of the ego, where the child begins to first differentiate between self and other. The second stage occurs between the ages of six and twelve, during which children begin to develop the capacity for independent thought and abstract reasoning. This stage is marked by the desire to interact socially and emotionally with others. The last stage in development is adolescence.
Instead of instructing with rote lectures, handouts, worksheets, and lesson plans, a Montessori teacher will offer guidance, but the child is ultimately responsible for his or her own individual learning. The classroom will often contain several stations, each containing toys which allow children to explore and learn. For example, a common station in a Montessori classroom will have a bucket of Lego blocks and several pictures of simple objects like an apple or a house, which the children can build if they want. Other stations might have books, crayons, a xylophone, or other engaging activities. The whole idea behind the Montessori classroom is allowing children to learn through playing.
Another interesting uniqueness to Montessori classrooms is age grouping. Typically, in Western schools, children are separated by ages and grade levels, interacting primarily with children their own age. A Montessori classroom will often be a mixed-age class, for example, containing all children between the ages of three and six. This is important because children are always at different stages in their development, and younger children can learn by watching older children play. This process is known as scaffolding and was formulated by Lev Vygotsky as a method of social learning.
A Montessori classroom is different from a typical classroom in a number of important ways. These changes encourage children to develop independently into well-rounded individuals. By allowing children to play, instead of sit and listen to lectures, the classroom allows children develop the motivation to learn and explore. Though it's not the traditional way to teach a class, the Montessori method offers empirically-supported advantages to children above and beyond normal development and learning.