This past week I visited Montessori Northwest an AMI accredited training center here in Portland. I was taking an intro to Montessori course for those in the community who want to know more about Montessori education. Since all of my exposure to Montessori education is through books and videos I was excited for the opportunity to spend a week immersed in Montessori and to learn more about the pedagogy from an experienced guide and trainer. It was a wonderful week of learning and discovery and the following are my impressions and comments about the experience.
The first thing I noticed when stepping into a Montessori classroom is the environment. The classroom looks much different than a traditional classroom. The walls are painted simple colors and the shelving is made of natural materials. The shelves are at the child's level and change in height as the children transition from Infant, Primary, and Elementary.
The adult guides (educators) are custodians of the environment, an important element in the practice of Montessori education. The prepared environment assists the guide and influences how children function in the space. The guides instruct children to utilize the materials and assist children through their learning journey with lessons and recommendations for materials to explore as development moves forward.
The guide works with children as individuals or in small groups. The children work in three-hour blocks of time. In my own practice and observation children who work with uninterrupted time are calmer, focused and experience more creativity than children in adult controlled lessons.
The Montessori materials are curated and placed on the shelf with intention. The aesthetic is important as materials are presented with order in containers of natural materials like wood, metal, fabric and glass. Other materials are displayed in hand made boxes and pouches that induce beauty to the space. Inside, the boxes contain hand made materials that relate to the prepared environment.
While there are specific materials designed for the Montessori classroom, many of the Montessori materials are hand made. The guides who produce the materials learn about their practice during the process of creation. When completed the materials sustain another life as instructional aids as children utilize the materials for their learning journey.
The primary (3-6 years) classroom represents a home like environment with plants, flowers, fish, and practical life tools. After the primary years, children proceed to elementary and focus changes from individual work to more collaborative group work. The depth of work in elementary grows. The teaching method reflects the developmental patterns found in children of different ages in the program.
Maria Montessori shaped theories and learned from other scholars in the application of her practice. Educators might consider different pedagogies were developed by the application of one thought process or author. Collaboration embodies the fuel of creativity. The work of Montessori followed scientific methods and her work included a study of philosophy.
By focusing on the philosophy of human tendencies we are looking to recognize our human potential. A path where humans embrace joy, purpose and a pursuit of happiness that descends from focus on the journey instead of the destination. The real destination equals the search for meaning and for humans to engage their spirit and try to explain the unexplained aspects of life.
Through the search for meaning humans discover we are all connected to everything else. The way we choose to proceed through life influences and guides our path. Humans discover meaning and are connected through our education that personifies more than academics; education is an aid to life. Education represents a path to our peaceful higher self, our essential humanness, of fulfilling our spiritual and physical needs in an interdependent way toward mastery.