The Montessori method of teaching is based on the belief that children of all ages have a great appetite for learning and an ability to absorb knowledge from their surroundings. During these early years there are sensitive periods during which children are attracted to different experiences, activities, and methods of engaging with their environment. This is a time of tremendous change and advancement for a child—physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally. As they grow, children use their imitation skills, begin goal oriented behavior, examine their world through trial and error, work on problem solving, negotiate interpersonal relationships, explore make believe and role playing, evolve skills of empathy, hone their physical control and movement, start to understand cause and effect, and develop an interest in written language.
The role of the teacher (directress/guide) in the Montessori classroom is to be a facilitator who observes and guides the children. She creates a calm, orderly, joyous atmosphere through routine modeling and practice. The directress demonstrates the use of materials and presents activities based on individual development and interest. Respecting children’s internal drives and curiosities is paramount—thus the limitation of rewards and other types of external motivation. The classroom setting, positive atmosphere, and satisfaction of a job well done should be the necessary encouragement.
The Montessori materials and activities are presented to the children individually and in small groups. The guide first demonstrates how to handle the materials and do the activity. She then observes the child completing the activity without interrupting or making corrections. If the child exhibits an understanding of the material, he is free to choose it for use. Materials may be presented again if the educator feels that it may enhance the child’s development. Teachers may also introduce variations to the activity once a child has mastered the materials in the initial phase.
For more information on the activities and Montessori materials used at Sunnybrook, see our section about the classroom.