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There are many ways to educate a child. This is one of a series of articles in which we will be exploring alternative ways of learning outside the traditional state education system, and explaining what makes them different, and unique. This series starts with an in-depth look at a Montessori education.

So where did the Montessori movement start? Well, it stretches back to the early 1900’s and was developed by María Montessori, the first female doctor in Italy. She believed that the effectiveness of education could be improved, by encouraging children to work independently and thereby become self motivated and become independent learners. María promoted the ‘natural spirituality’ of children and encouraged them to rely on their ‘precise inner guides’. Children are natural learners and she believed that freedom was important to encourage their innate learning abilities.

If the idea of your child being his or her own ‘inner guide’ is in line with your own values and beliefs, then maybe Montessori is for you.

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So how it differs from a traditional school in the UK? Well, there are two main differences: the school and environment and the approach to learning.

School environment

One of the most obvious differences is in the classroom, where:

  • Order is given great importance, so that a child can feel secure in their learning environment.
  • Independence is encouraged from the earliest years, through tools like special frames which help kids do up and undo clothes. Children are also encouraged to carry out tasks they may often see parents completing at home and they are invited to practise skills like pouring, spooning and whisking liquids. They also learn to cut and thread.
  • Children of various ages work together, since children learn a great deal from each other. They are also taught a series of Practical Life Skills including dish-washing, caring for animals, self-defence, gardening, cooking and much more.

Greater importance is given to process rather than results; children should not be pressured by external demands.

Teaching methods

  • It emphasises the importance of learning through the senses by providing children with beautiful, carefully prepared materials.
  • Mathematics is taught in quite a revolutionary way; children are introduced to the decimal system as young as age 3. Units of tens, hundreds and thousands are represented by different coloured learning materials which represent the decimal hierarchy in 3D forms. An enlightening video of a typical early learning maths class can be found here.
  • From the ages of three to 12, in addition to Reading and Language Arts, Mathematics, Geography and Science, children are given sensory training, which emphasise the skills of perception, observation, fine discrimination and classification. For instance, children are taught to discriminate length, width and height, solve complex abstract puzzles in three dimensions and discriminate between musical notes.
  • Even traditional subjects are taught differently. In Science class, for instance, children will learn interesting topics like astronomy and cosmology, nutrition and animal behaviour. In a subject called Cultural Geography, meanwhile, they learn about fun cultural celebrations like Chinese New Year, how to cook Chinese food or how to perform a Chinese dance!

You may find that many Montessori schools near you only offer a primary school or early years education. There are secondary schools as well, who will usually offer a special programme for children aged 12 to 15,  then a high school programme where students are prepared for University or special qualifications like the International Baccalaureate.

If this article has piqued your interest, then why not call a local Montessori school and take a look for yourself. It might be the perfect place for your child.

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