Pedagogy

Montessori - What's that?

 

This is the name of a woman who had a heart for children like few others. In her love for and respect for the children, she created living spaces for them in which they feel comfortable, where they can grow into integrated personalities and responsible citizens of a democratic society at the same time.

Maria Montessori (1870 - 1952) was an Italian doctor and educator.

Through study, observation, and reflection, she gained insights into the child's self-education process. She created an educational philosophy and practice that was characterized by respect for the individual and their self-determination, as well as awareness of responsibility for the world.

Today, there are more than 25,000 Montessori institutions worldwide in 126 countries. In China, up to 70,000 institutions have been established, most of them in preschool, i.e., Montessori children's houses for one to six year olds. In the area of schools, there are Montessori primary, secondary, high, and special schools for six to sixteen year olds, as well as Montessori comprehensive schools and grammar schools for ten to nineteen year olds (in all types of schools and federal states). Montessori education is also increasingly being used in the work with senior citizens. Currently, there are around 1,000 Montessori institutions in Germany. And all of these institutions are not vague experiments, but proven educational institutions through long practice.

 

The child as the architect of their own self

The special thing about these Montessori institutions is that the original spontaneous desire to learn, the tireless urge to act, and the innate need of every child for human relationships are not hindered or restricted in these institutions, but expressly pedagogically enabled as the actual driving forces of human personality and cultural development. In this context, Montessori speaks of the child as the architect of their own self, the creator of humans. She makes it clear that every child has an innate energy, an active potential, which enables them to build their own personality. With its internally motivated and with the help of environmental influences, the child pursues this self-construction. From the first day of life, the child is considered and understood as a full-fledged human being. It is a creature with a spirit from birth, actively engaging with its environment.

 

Absorbent mind

The entire process of human development consists of a constant integration of experiences, termed adaptation by Montessori. The way in which children absorb and integrate impressions is special and is referred to by Montessori as the absorbent mind. It is an unconscious cognitive structure that is connected with a creative power and is clearly different from the thinking and mental forms of adults. The child is able to grasp immensely complex phenomena - such as human language - simply by living and perceiving. The impressions that the child absorbs become part of its essence.

 

Help me to do it by myself!

Montessori's fundamental belief is that the child, indeed the human being, only realizes themselves through their existence and their own activity in the world throughout all phases of life. In self-activity, she sees the child's path to freedom in the sense of independence. Activity and independent, self-directed living mutually condition each other. The child wants to learn on their own, make their own experiences in the world around them, and perceive them through their personal effort. Development only occurs in this way, and learning can only take place in this manner. Only the experience of one's own independence is the basis for the development of human dignity, in all areas of life. This leads to the almost trademark demand of Montessori for Free Choice of Activity, for self-directed learning. There is indeed an inseparable connection between self-activity and freedom, also as a central prerequisite for sustainable learning. Only those who can determine for themselves can engage in targeted activity, deeply engage with a matter, and thus engage in real learning. The child wants to do it themselves, hence another guiding principle of Montessori pedagogy "Help me to do it myself (alone)."

This statement is particularly important in the life of a child. There is probably no stage in human development in which there is such a profound dependence on adults as at this age. This refers to the child's freedom to take the initiative so that human self-development can succeed.

Sensitive phases

This is basically guided by so-called sensitive phases. This refers to Montessori's idea that development takes place as a process in different phases. Each developmental phase is characterized by certain sensitivities, Montessori also speaks of sensitive periods, meaning times of increased readiness to learn, in which children find it easy to acquire certain educational stimuli particularly quickly and permanently. Today's research speaks of time windows. The task of the adult is to recognize through precise observation what the offers in a prepared environment must look like so that the child can make particularly intensive use of them for his or her learning. The Montessori institutions therefore have offers related to the respective developmental age, but also principles that apply to all institutions, standards, so to speak, that show whether it is a Montessori institution. The Kinderhaus covers the first stage of development from 0-6 years with the sensitivities for movement (motor skills - hand, balance, walking), order (internal and external) and language. These three special learning dispositions are taken into account everywhere in the Montessori Children's House, as the importance of self-activity is given central importance. The role of hand activity becomes particularly clear. The sensibility of order does not mean tidying up in the traditional sense. Order means the structuring of the numerous sensory impressions by the child itself, but also the recognition of the structure of the learning environment. Sensitivity to language corresponds to the development of the sense of hearing. It is not only about spoken language, but also about the child's visual observation of the speaker. Up to around the age of 4, the child can learn any language with ease. The Montessori materials have a fundamental function for the aforementioned sensitivities (see there).

Polarization of attention

In this context, reference should be made to the so-called Montessori phenomenon, the polarization of attention. This refers to the child's intense devotion to the object, in which it temporarily isolates itself from the outside world and cannot be distracted. Children are capable of engaging with an object with tremendous intensity, repeating activities over and over again and working with a high level of concentration.

This observation gave Montessori the idea of repeatedly giving children this opportunity to concentrate in an appropriately prepared and adapted environment, as this is the only way to truly acquire knowledge. While very young children unconsciously fall into the polarization of attention when confronted with an object, older children and adolescents are more likely to concentrate deliberately.

Montessori always observed this constant reaction of intense concentration in connection with certain external conditions, which, she says, are determined with the help of external stimuli. This reference makes the empirical character of the polarization of attention clear. This is because many of the behaviours that characterize the trait are accessible to observation, can therefore be verified and can then also be changed in terms of their conditions. Thus, the phenomenon of polarization of attention is a criterion in the selection of the means of the prepared environment, but also a yardstick for the further development and implementation of Montessori education in the most diverse institutions right up to the present day.

Prepared environment - Montessori material

The basis of such learning is self-selected activity (free choice of work) in an age-appropriate prepared environment - another core idea of Montessori education. Based on the fact that childhood is a stage of humanity that is completely different from that of the adult, Montessori makes the self-evident demand to create an environment for the child that is adapted to his activity so that he - master of this environment - can develop freely. The prepared environment must be adapted to each phase of life if the child or young person is to be understood as the subject of education and teaching. It should be a place where the child can become more and more active and enter into a lively relationship with the objects found there. They help the child to become independent. Therefore, only things that are conducive to the child's development should be found there. This environment should have a revealing character and not a formative one.

The Montessori material, which has become an integral part of the prepared environment in the nursery and elementary school, is regarded as the "trademark" of Montessori education and has become known worldwide. As it is very extensive, only the material areas are listed here: 1. practical life exercises - 2. sensory material - 3. mathematical material - 4. language material - 5. cosmic (ecological) education and material - 6. religious (ethical) education/material. This variety of material also explains why a separate Montessori training program is necessary for traditional educator training. But: For Montessori, this material was always only a key to the world, it was never intended to present the world itself. The material is therefore only the starting point for intellectual education. A non-developmental attachment to materials leads to a delay in intellectual development. This is why there are no guidelines for the supposedly correct sequence in the presentation of the material. There will be children, for example, who only need parts of the material.

The materials for the first stage of development (0-6 years) can be found in the rooms of our children's house. They show that a child can learn to read, write and count at the age of four/five if they are allowed to be active on their own and, if they are allowed to, can also learn other languages in addition to their first language thanks to the materials in the prepared environment. Educational and language support is therefore provided here in an active sense, namely as self-promotion. Especially with very young children (0-3 years), it is now clear that child development cannot be directly influenced because it is self-constructed. A stimulating environment that meets the child's needs, including the caregivers, is crucial. The 3-6 year old child increasingly develops awareness through activity in the environment and expands its mental structures. In addition, there is a special child sensitivity - the tendency towards social integration, development of community spirit in the children's society (cohesive society). Here it becomes clear why a further central requirement of pre-school education must be taken into account: the rights of children (cf. ibid.).

The educator in Montessori pedagogy

Understanding development based on self-chosen activity (Free choice of work) in an age-appropriate prepared environment means for the adult to accept a complete role reversal and then also to live it. Because the actual workers in Montessori institutions are the children. Many adults find it difficult to perceive and respect children's autonomy aspirations. Instead, they interfere in children's areas of life and disrupt developmental processes. It is no wonder, then, that Montessori sees adults more as obstacles than as help for the growing child, as they all too often stand in the way of the child's striving for independence. Adults, on the other hand, should prepare the environment for children in such a way that they can carry out many activities themselves. Only then is it possible for them to develop independence and thus also freedom. This is one of the central tasks of the adult: the age-appropriate preparation of the environment as the key to the acquisition of the world.

For educators, this means making a radical change in perspective, as they are a fundamental part of the prepared environment. They assist the child, providing support in line with the world-famous motto of Montessori pedagogy: Help me to do it myself! This means that the freedom of children's developmental processes is respected. Respect and appreciation for the child's dignity are essential qualities demanded of educators.

 

That the main workers in the Montessori children's houses and schools are the children and adolescents does not mean that adults are not active themselves.  Children and adolescents need adults, as a reference person, for example, or as role models. Because they inevitably have to gradually integrate and adapt to the culture and society of our present – a truly rich, but also complicated culture and society. Montessori sees the prepared environment and the prepared adult as the two cornerstones of her pedagogy.

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Parkkindergarten Hagerhof integratives Montessori Kinderhaus gGmbH