Dr Montessori dedicated the greater part of her life to studying child development and working and teaching about these practices. Her method was based on a Constructivist or 'discovery' model, where children learn concepts from working with materials rather than by direct instruction.
Some key features of her unique approach are: the fundamental principles about the way that children grow, their sensitive periods, special ways of thinking and human tendencies; the specialised educational materials developed by Maria Montessori and her collaborators; classrooms with mixed aged groups; and children working in uninterrupted blocks of time with a choice of activities from within a prescribed range of options.
The Montessori teacher's role is to be an observer, learning director and guide. Rather than taking control and imparting knowledge, he or she provides opportunities for children to learn in a 'prepared environment' - one tailored to basic human characteristics and to the specific characteristics of children at different ages. The teacher lets children progress at their own speed, to develop a 'can do' attitude and a belief in their own abilities.
Montessori teachers provide activities focused on six areas of learning: activities of everyday living; sensorial activities; numeracy and arithmetic; literacy; knowledge and understanding of the world; and creative activities. Children have the freedom to develop according to their own unique timetable, reaching their milestones when they are ready.
The Montessori Society AMI UK provides information on teacher training and professional development and has a website with Montessori-related articles.
QUALIFICATIONS AND TRAINING
The minimum qualification for Montessori teachers in the UK is the Level 4 Diploma. This is a free-standing, unique international qualification specifically designed for Montessori teachers. More that 50 per cent of Montessori graduates also hold first degrees and some have mainstream teaching qualifications.
The Montessori Centre International offers the Level 4 Diploma course, validated by the Montessori Board of Examiners and a foundation degree in Arts Montessori Early Years Practice, validated by London Metropolitan University. The latter was designed to provide a degree level qualification for the Montessori community. Vocationally based, it combines the best of the London Met's Early Childhood Studies course with Montessori pedagogy for working with children from birth to seven years. On completion, there are opportunities to progress towards a full BA Honours degree, Early Years Professional Status and Post Graduate Certificate in Education programmes.
The Maria Montessori Institute AMI offers a comprehensive tutor-guided course leading to the Association Montessori Internationale Diploma. It is designed for teachers, carers, psychologists, therapists and nurses planning to work with children up to six years and those who work with gifted or sick children. The course can be taken full-time in one year, part-time in two years, or in a three-summer format.
The MMI also offers a one-term, part-time Certificate course for assistants in Montessori schools and this is an ideal preparation for the AMI Diploma course. Entry to all courses is by interview.
Lincolnshire Montessori is also about to offer a Montessori Early Childhood Diploma after Easter (see Update, page 31).
The Montessori Society AMI UK: www.montessorisociety.org.uk
The Maria Montessori Institute AMI UK: www.mariamontessori.org The Montessori Centre International: www.montessori.org.uk CASE STUDY: LORI WOELLHAF
I am proud to have been trained at the Maria Montessori Institute. As head directress of the Maria Montessori School in Hampstead, my role is to ensure that our environment is a beautiful and orderly place where children are continually inspired to discover and learn.
We have 30 children in classes of mixed aged groups from two-and-a-half to six years. This is a crucial component of the smooth functioning of a mini community. Every day we see beautiful moments arise from the mixed-age community - the children helping each other, finding creative solutions and persevering in the face of a challenge - whether it be in drying a spill of water on the floor, or filling three pages with multiplication sums.
A key Montessori principle is the encouragement of independence. A fundamental preparation for this is the three-hour activity cycle. For the entire morning, each child is encouraged and/or guided to choose the activities that provide the challenge necessary to stimulate his interest.
This can be sparked by activities involving sensorial exploration, language, mathematics and culture. We also provide opportunities for creative expression - singing, dancing, drama, and response games.
People who walk into a Montessori environment often comment on the deep concentration they see in the children, a sense of calm and peace that pervades the room, a self-confidence, and spontaneous joy the children take in their activities.
When the children go home, the team often talk about the moments that inspired us that day. We see children showing a genuine love for learning and respect for all things in the environment. The community spirit is a manifestation of the environment they find themselves in, and the giving and the sharing among the children arises quite naturally.