Comparing Montessori Education to Mainstream Kindergartens
What's the historical context between Montessori and mainstream education?
Let's take Australia as an example. The traditional kindergarten system in Australia was actually based on Maria Montessori's first "Children's House". Her materials and methodology were respected and renowned world-wide, and were adopted in Australia as the model for early education. However, during WWII, the Montessori system was phased out, mainly for political reasons.
The current kindergarten system in Australia is called the "Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF)", and is a government designed and based curriculum. This system is in line with the standards set out in the National quality Standards. All early learning centres in Australia must adopt both the EYLF and the NQS.
What Montessori centres do, is they extend the government frameworks by implementing the Montessori pedagogy and philosophy in the early learning centre, providing an environment and experiences that not only meet the national guidelines, but are enhanced by the teachings and materials of Maria Montessori.
The Montessori materials
The unique and purposeful materials found in a Montessori early learning childcare centre are very different from those in the traditional mainstream system.
A Montessori classroom is thoughtfully arranged and prepared to offer children a variety of specific materials to interest them, ignite their curiosity for self learning, and engage them with the materials. This works to promote growth and development.
Maria Montessori observed and studied children, taking note of the types of activities that children were naturally drawn towards. These activities appeared to hold the child's interests, and the children would return to them regularly.
These observations led her to design a number of multi-sensory, sequential and self-correcting materials that worked to facilitate the child's learning. Montessori materials generally focus on exploration of the sensory, mathematics, science, culture and practical life learning skills.
Montessori materials are made from painted or varnished wood, and are aesthetically pleasing and appealing. They are never made from plastic. The materials are made of natural materials found in the world, and are pleasurable to both look at and to hold.
What are self-correcting Montessori materials?
Montessori materials are designed to be self-correcting. When a piece does not fit or is left over the child can easily perceive the error. There is no need for adult or educator "correction". the child is able to solve the problem independently, in turn building self-confidence, analytical thinking, and feeling the satisfaction that comes from this accomplishment.
Montessori materials also encourage scaffolded learning. This means that the materials build on prior experience, with each one increasing in levels of complexity, requiring more advanced skills to solve the puzzle.
The Montessori classroom or playroom environment
The Montessori environment, whether a classroom, a playroom at home, or a kids corner area, are generally beautiful in their simplicity.
The classroom or playroom should be uncluttered and structured, so that it does not overstimulate the senses. this environment will allow the child to work and learn with focus and concentration.
The child is presented with enough materials to engage them in meaningful play, but not so many all at once that they are overwhelmed and confused by which to choose.
Montessori environments do not display the child's work
Many modern kindergartens display the children's work either on the walls, or hanging from the ceiling. Every inch of available space is covered by various pieces of art, maths, writing, and other displays.
This has a few problems. Not only does the environment seem busy and overwhelming for the eye, but it also encourages comparisons between the children's work.
Maria Montessori believed that displaying children's work encouraged competition, comparison and judgement. As such, in the Montessori environment, there is nowhere for the child to observe other's work, nor acquire the concept of comparing themselves to others, nor labelling or excluding others.
A Montessori classroom or educational area at home, such as a playroom or kids corner, is unique in the way it looks and feels, and in the materials in it, and the lessons it provides. It is an environment created specially for the child, with their needs being first and centre.
- Maxim Ross