Founded by pediatrician / psychiatrist Maria Montessori in 1907, Montessori school programs (there are over 5,000 in North America) emphasize the importance and connection of all living things, and the need for each person to find meaningful work and his or her own place in the world. Children learn about other cultures, animals, and plants in addition to reading, language, and mathematical skills.
Teachers take their lead from each child, whom they believe will learn at his or her own pace. Montessori programs encourage a child's sense of independence: Children are always asked if they want to try a task, if they need help doing it, or if they feel they aren't ready. Guides also like to involve parents closely in their children's education — the teacher-student-parent bond is carefully cultivated.
In The Classroom
The Montessori curriculum focuses on five areas:
• Practical Life — Children learn how to tie their shoes and put on their coats, prepare their own snacks and drinks, go to the bathroom without help, and clean up after themselves if they spill something
• Sensory Awareness Education — Exercises make sure children use all five senses to learn. For example, a child studying about fall gathers leaves and feels how brittle they are.
• Language Arts — Children are encouraged to express themselves verbally and are taught to trace and recognize letters as a precursor to learning reading, spelling, grammar, and handwriting skills.
• Mathematics and Geometry — Children learn about numbers through hands-on learning using concrete materials, such as the golden beads that represent the hierarchy of the decimal system, for example.
• Cultural Subjects — Children learn about other countries (geography), animals (zoology), time, history, music, movement, science, and art.