The Montessori Materials are the most visible sign of Dr. Maria Montessori’s unique approach to the education of children. Early on in her observation and studies of children, she realized that the hand of the child represented a direct pathway to his or her development of intelligence and knowledge of the world. She expressed these concepts by advising, “never give to the mind what you have not first given to the hand,” and by referring to the materials she developed for the hand as the children’s “keys to the world.”
In her early educational research, Montessori came upon materials developed for use with the mentally impaired by a French medical doctor and pioneer, Eduard Sequin. She modified these original materials and added extensively to them, continuing to revise and refine these new materials of her own creation. However, she only did so after extensive thought and experimentation with children all over the world from differing backgrounds and cultures. By the time of her death in 1952, she had developed the full set of Montessori Materials introducing every area of study, thus giving children a practical means of exploring and understanding all of human civilization and the natural world.
The Montessori Materials respond to the natural stages of the child’s development and the child’s innate powers, interests, and sensitivities from infancy through age six for the Primary Level and from age six through age 12 for the Elementary Level. Materials for the very youngest children have to do with activities of the home such as food preparation, care of the environment and self, and the development of language. Gradually, through these activities, children as young as 18 months develop a sense of organized process, focus and concentration, coordinated purposeful movement, language and independence.
Montessori Materials for Young Children
By the age of three, the children move to a classroom where they remain until age six to six and a half. Materials now extend from activities children have experienced in the practical world of the home to the introduction of: cursive writing followed by reading; mathematical concepts of the decimal system and the four operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division; fractions and geometric shapes; geography and land and water forms; the natural world of plants and animals and their habitats. There are puzzle maps of each continent and its countries and pictures and books about the peoples and their ways of living in all parts of the world. The Music Materials extend from the development of discerning pitch to musical notation. Art Materials are always available for the children’s drawing and illustrating of their work.
All of these materials are arranged on low shelves in sequence of presentation to the children, from the simplest materials to the most complex. Hence the children have a visible representation of what comes first, then next, and so forth, in their learning and development in each area of exploration. Initially, a teacher introduces a child to each new material but it is in the children’s subsequent use and repetition that actual learning takes place within the child and becomes an intrinsic part of his or her knowledge and skills. Hence the Montessori Materials are not learning tools with which to impart the specific knowledge of the adult, representing a transfer of knowledge directly from one person to another. Rather, they are tools for exploration whose independent repeated usage help each child to learn in his or her own unique way.
When the children move to the Elementary Level between ages six and seven, they encounter a familiar environment of shelves, with carefully arranged materials covering all areas of study, ready for their exploration. This time, however, the teacher presents the materials to small groups of children, rather than to one child at a time, as in the Primary. This different approach reflects the elementary children’s newly developed interest in learning primarily in social collaboration with their peers. After this initial group presentation with two to four or more classmates, the children are at liberty to form their own small groups for their follow up work. This opportunity to work in freedom with their peers, in large part, accounts for the enthusiasm and joy in their work so characteristic of Montessori elementary students.
Areas of study in every instance are open ended in the Montessori Elementary Level, with no set termination point for study. The materials start the students off on an exploratory path of research and study in a specific area but it is up to the children to determine what and how they will eventually cover it. Because from their earliest years, they have developed a strong work ethic and a realization that the world is a fascinating place with no end of possibility and inspiration, children find great satisfaction in going beyond standard expectations found in regular school curriculums. For example, graduates of Forest Bluff School often write papers of thirty pages instead of a five page paper required as a teacher assignment.
We invite you to visit Forest Bluff School, and see for yourselves, children at work in authentic Montessori classrooms using the materials Dr. Montessori so carefully thought out and meticulously developed to meet the specific needs of children in their natural formation. They are an unparalleled gift of genius to every child, teacher and parent.