The Elements of a Montessori Education

There are three main elements of a Montessori Environment:
  • The Montessori Materials
  • The Prepared Environment
  • The Prepared Adult
No element of the Montessori Environment has more emphasis than the other. Each one is equally important and the success of the class is dependant on a harmonious joining together of all three.

The (awe-inspiring) Montessori Materials

All children and most adults learn best through hands-on experience and the process of investigation and discovery.

Students who "learn" by memorisation gain a superficial understanding, which is difficult to grasp. Dr. Maria Montessori recognised that concrete learning apparatus which the child manipulates makes learning rewarding and meaningful. The Montessori learning materials are not the method itself; they are simply tools that we use to stimulate the children into logical thought and discovery. The Montessori Materials are provocative and simple, each one carefully designed to appeal to children at a given level of development.

An important concept is that for each age level of the Montessori Curriculum, there is an extensive collection of carefully defined educational materials that can be likened to the chapters in a traditional textbook. Each material isolates and illuminates on concept or skill, one step at a time. In developing the materials, Dr Montessori carefully analysed the skills and concepts involved in each subject and noted the sequence in which the children most easily master them. The Materials lead the child on a step by step journey towards a true understanding of the concepts.

The Prepared Environment

A Montessori classroom is a rich and inviting space full of interesting pictures, books, plants, maps, charts, and items of interest according to the children's level of development. The shelves are home to intriguing learning materials again appealing to the children at each stage.

Montessori classrooms are commonly referred to as a "Prepared Environment". The name reflects the care and attention that go into creating a nurturing learning environment that will reinforce the children's independence and intellectual development.

On entering a Montessori class, visitors are often struck by how comfortable and relaxed the environment is. It is laid out to facilitate discussion and collaborative learning as well as quiet and peaceful individual learning.

It has a very different feel from the traditional classroom layout of many educational environments. Tables, floor mats and other furniture are used to create interesting areas or corners surrounded by rich & inspiring pictures. Children are typically found scattered around the classroom, working alone or in small groups. The children tend to be so involved in their work that visitors are immediately struck by the peaceful atmosphere. The Directress and Assistant will not at first be distinguishable form the children as they are mostly at child height, working between the children one homogenous group!

The Prepared Adult

Freedom is a critical issue as children begin their journey of discovery. Our goal is less to teach them facts and concepts, but rather to help them fall in love with the process of focusing their complete attention on something and solving its riddle with enthusiasm."
Tim Seldin, President of the Montessori Foundation.

In defining the role of the adult in the Montessori class, Dr. Montessori used the name "Directress" instead of teacher. In Italian, it implies the role of co-ordinator or administrator of an office or factory. Today, many schools prefer to call their teachers "Guides". Whatever they are called, Montessori Directresses & Assistants are rarely the centre of attention, for this is not their class it is the children's environment. Their primary role is to prepare and maintain the physical, intellectual and social/emotional environment within which the children will engage. A key aspect of this is a selection of intriguing and developmentally appropriate opportunities for learning to meet the needs and interest of each individual child in the class.

"Montessori teachers do more than present curriculum, the secret of any great teacher is helping learners to get to the point where their minds and hearts are open and they are ready to learn". Tim Seldin, President of the Montessori Foundation

As the name Assistant implies, s/he plays a crucially supportive role in the environment, assisting individual children as well as overseeing the rest of the group while the Directress gives a presentation.

A "Presentation" is similar to a lesson except that it implies presenting a topic rather than teaching it, allowing for the child's own discovery and subsequent learning.

Montessori adults are the role models in the environment and they set the tone. They exude peace, calm, love and respect for the child.