Dr. Maria Montessori developed the Montessori approach to education in the early 1900s in Italy. As is true for any high quality program, a Montessori program includes a small staff to child ratio, certain caregiver qualifications, and accreditation from the state. In addition to these, there are unique characteristics of the Montessori program. It is a common public misconception that the Montessori approach is taught only in preschool, which is not the case. Certain unique characteristics found in Montessori classrooms are the nourishment of the child’s spirit, freedom of movement, and the physical layout of the classroom.
"The goal of Early Childhood Education should be to activate the child's own natural desire to learn."-Maria Montessori
Nourishing the child’s spirit is an important part of the Montessori educational approach. Dr. Montessori viewed this as just as important as feeding the child and making sure the child has air to breathe. Part of the child is the spiritual embryo and it needs its own special environment where the child has a feeling of protection, love, and nourishment. This is a key point in the development of the whole child. Dr. Montessori makes a point that it is the teacher’s job to make the child’s spirit feel welcome in the classroom.
The Montessori classroom is specifically designed to allow for freedom of movement for the child. Through movement, children are able to explore their world. The teachers lay out the materials in the Montessori classroom logically and in an orderly fashion, but it is the children’s job to use them. The Montessori method recognizes how important it is to realize one’s place in the world and to be able to figure out how to function as a part of one’s own community. In being able to accomplish this, one can accomplish independence, which is the true goal of the student. Therefore, freedom and movement is a unique and crucial aspect of the Montessori classroom.
The layout of the classroom is very important when preparing a Montessori environment. Dr. Montessori taught that the environment would have a substantial impact as to how a child develops and changes. Dr. Montessori refers to the environment of the Montessori school as the “children’s house.” When it is one’s own house, one feels that they should care for his or her own house, and this is the same case with children. When children take pride in their environment, they will clean up and take care of fragile objects. A special characteristic of Montessori equipment is that it is all purposed for children and not adults. This means that a Montessori school will have complete furniture and equipment for a miniature family (children) to manage. Dr. Montessori says, “A school, a place built for children, must have furniture and equipment scaled to the proper size and adapted to their physical strength, so that they can move it with the same ease with which we move the furniture in our homes.” A unique feature of the Montessori children’s house is the dining area, where all cupboards are accessible to the children. In the cupboards are cutlery, napkins, and plates for the children to use to set their table.
The Montessori Environment truly fosters a sense of independence, order, and concentration.