What does ‘Montessori’ mean?
The word ‘Montessori’ is often used in the baby world, for example ‘Oh those materials are so Montessori’ or ‘I really want to set up a Montessori Baby Space for my baby’. But what does the term actually mean? The Montessori Method is named after the lady who developed it – Dr. Maria Montessori. It is an educational principle which is underpinned by using a child’s natural abilities and interests to teach them and develop their skills as opposed to using traditional/formal methods of teaching. In Montessori settings, children are offered age-appropriate activities to fulfil this style of learning. It can also be referred to as ‘self-directed learning’. Montessori environments are set in up in ways to facilitate young children in their different types of development. Activities are ‘hands-on’ and often require collaborative play resulting in children deepening their understanding of different subjects but also boosting their social skills.
Dr Maria Montessori was originally an Italian medical doctor. She started to set up schools for disadvantaged children after working with children with special educational needs/disabilities (SEND). She spent hours studying the methods which helped children with SEND learn most productively. Amazingly, Dr Maria Montessori opened the first Montessori School (the Casa Dei Bambini/Children’s House) in Rome on 6th January 1907. So, yes, incredibly, the Montessori Method has been around since the 1900s. It has become more and more renowned over the generations and is still an incredibly popular educational model used today in nurseries worldwide.
Montessori environments focus on certain areas of development depending on the age of the child:
For babies and toddlers (0-3 years), the focus is on developing their co-ordination, motor skills and language/vocabulary skills. Environments need to feel secure, trusting and supportive in order for their abilities and confidence to flourish. There is also an emphasis on activities which require the development of self-reliance and independence.
For ages three to six years, the goal is to provide lots of opportunities for exploration, investigation, creativity, self-expression and imagination. Activities which centre around role-play, sensory stimulation, self-regulation and social skills are of paramount importance. Maths and English tasks will also be slowly introduced at this time.
When the Montessori method was first introduced into the world of education, some educators thought it sounded a little disorganised with children choosing what they wanted to do and how long for. It really isn’t though! It operates using the following key principles:
Order and Structure – whilst children can choose their activities, order and structure can be maintained by following some simple rules. Everything in a Montessori nursery has its own place and children take responsibility for putting away one activity before starting another.
Sensory Learning – learning through the senses is a key component of the Montessori model. Activities have some kind of sensory appeal for children to enjoy and learning materials are treated with care and respect.
Freedom – also known as ‘respect for the child’ is vitally important to the model. The method respects a child’s freedom to choose what they want to do/how they want to engage. Children should not be interrupted when playing as this disturbs their concentration and shows a disrespect for their learning.
Sensitive Periods – children have ‘sensitive periods’ when they will be most receptive to learning a new skill. Each child is different and should be allowed to develop at their own pace. Parents/teachers should watch and wait and use their instincts to spot when their child is ready to learn a new skill. This observational approach is much kinder to a child as opposed to just expecting them to be able to achieve a particular skill because they have reached a particular age.
In Schools, Early Years Settings use their so-called ‘Enabling Environments’ for young children to learn. A huge emphasis is placed on ‘active learning’ and ‘learning through experience’ much like the Montessori model. Statutory targets are where schools differ though. The Montessori philosophy does not restrict itself to setting age-specific developmental targets whereas schools have to report on progress. Montessori nurseries remain a very popular choice for parents, however, with children reaching their traditional developmental indicators at appropriate ages.
So, what do Montessori Toys look like? Learning through the form of play is always at the heart of the model. Montessori toys are specifically designed for sensory stimulation, alongside the development of motor skills and problem-solving skills. An example would be toys which children need to explore to make movements and sounds – rather than a toy making sounds and moving by itself. Toys are usually made from ‘all-natural’ materials, such as wood, cotton, ceramic, metal and rock (little or no plastic). These specific qualities help children to form a deep connection with the world/nature and spark a curiosity for its materials. Natural materials also make imaginary play much easier later on too when children want to carry out role-play/small world activities.
Further examples of Montessori toys would be:
- Mirror Blocks
- Wooden Shape Puzzles
- Objective permanence boxes
- Punch and Drop Toys
- Kitchen sets – an oven or a sink
Sheepskin rugs are often used in Montessori spaces as they are obviously a 100% natural material. They provide a natural warmth, cosiness, and an interesting texture for little hands. Their simplicity and beauty make them rather appealing to the eye and they provide an air of peace and calm. The fleeces are perfect for floor-based activities and can be moved to wherever you need them to be. If you are thinking of using a sheepskin in your Montessori baby space, check out our range of ‘Baby Sheepskin Rugs’ using the following link: https://www.naturallysheepskins.co.uk/collections/sheepskin-baby-rug