A child-centric learning method, Montessori’s philosophy is grounded in the idea that children learn best through hands-on activities and not by passively accepting what is presented to them, says Yvonne Ling, a teacher at Brighton Montessori.
It uses scientifically developed equipment – solid geometric forms, knobbed puzzle maps, coloured beads, metal insets and various specialised rods and blocks – that are designed specifically to develop kids’ understanding of weight, size, colour, touch and sound. The different manipulatives are used to build its five focus areas: practical life skills, sensorial learning, language development, mathematics and cultural studies.
Children learn through all five senses and not just through listening, watching or reading, which is why the equipment is arranged neatly by subject on child-sized shelving to appeal to the kids’ developmental interests.
“For instance, through sight, touch, sound, taste and smell, the Montessori materials of the sensorial area enable them to clarify, classify and comprehend their world,” Yvonne explains. “On the other hand, mathematics is presented through 3-D manipulative materials that reveal correlations based on arithmetic, geometry and algebra.” This helps the young ones understand abstract concepts through concrete examples.
IS THIS A MONTESSORI SCHOOL?
The Montessori term and method were never patented and therefore have no official overseeing or accrediting body. As such, it is easy for a school to attach the term to its name without offering a proper Montessori education. If you’re checking out schools and are unsure, the experts dole out the following tips:
1. RESEARCH Take time to read up about the Montessori method. There is information aplenty both in books and on the Internet. Decide how much of the Montessori approach you want your child to be exposed to, and look for a school with values that align with yours.
2. OBSERVE Montessori classrooms should be geared to the child’s size and allow him to move freely within a safe and conducive environment. Materials should be concrete, hands-on and aesthetically pleasing, and organised by subject on child-sized shelves. Most importantly, watch how the kids interact with the teachers and environment; they should be independent, confident, eloquent and calm.
3. ASK How many of the teachers are Montessori-trained? Only a trained teacher can properly impart lessons with the specialised equipment. A plus point would be if the principal or director is also Montessori-trained. In Singapore, one of the more common institutions is Modern Montessori International.
Related story: How to bring the Montessori method home