The Montessori classroom is a marketplace of discovery where children learn at their own pace.
It isn't easy to spot the teacher in a Montessori classroom. There's no grown-up at the front spouting facts. But if you look closely, you'll notice someone moving among the students, gently making suggestions, helping children to teach themselves.
This is the heart of what Italian educator Maria Montessori believed - that no human being can be taught by another; that you must learn for yourself or it won't mean a thing. In Montessori-based classrooms, children get up and move around and let curiosity be their guide.
And because Montessori believed "the hand is the chief teacher of the brain," students most often learn by touch - by handling specially designed materials such as golden math beads, sandpaper letters, wooden maps of the world. The Montessori teacher's job is to show children how to use these materials - then leave them to learn independently.
It has been nearly a century since Maria Montessori mapped out her unique approach to schooling. She believed a classroom should run as a marketplace of discovery where children learn at their own pace, with the teacher stepping in only when needed.
Today, research seems to be proving Montessori right. The bustle of a Montessori class is matched by a tangible sense of order. No running or yelling or drifting is allowed. Children are taught grace and courtesy, how to say "good morning" politely, how to eat lunch with table manners, even how to walk a line to develop decorum.
And although students help themselves to materials, it isn't a free-for-all. Students may choose only from materials the teacher has shown them. If they want to try something new, they must ask for a demonstration to spare them confusion or frustration. From watching how effortlessly a child learns to speak, or walk, Montessori concluded that a young child's mind is like a sponge - she called it "the absorbent mind." And because it is so absorbent, Montessori called the first six years "the most important period of life; the time when intelligence, man's greatest tool, is being formed."
As a result, Montessori classrooms often expose children to abstract concepts earlier than the public-school system does. And they seem to grasp such abstract concepts with the help of special Montessori materials. It is through such creative elements of a Montessori classroom that the gifted Italian educator continues to promote "the excitement of learning" in new generations of children.
Don't forget that we offer a comprehensive list of Montessori schools elementary to high school.