NARRATOR:Listen to part of a lecture in an education class. The professor is discussing the Italian educator Maria Montessori.
FEMALE PROFESSOR:Okay, if you did your reading for today then you were introduced to a very influential alternative to traditional education.This educational philosophy and methodology was pioneered in Italy in the early 1900s by Dr. Maria Montessori.It's called the Montessori Method.But what made the Montessori Method for young children so different?What made it so different, so special?
MALE STUDENT:It's based on very different ideas about how kids learn best, right?
FEMALE PROFESSOR:Um, hmm. It was groundbreaking.To begin with, unlike the traditional classrooms at the time, the Montessori classroom environment was more suited to the child—the furniture was child-sized; well, it's that way in almost all schools now, but that wasn't always the case.We can thank Montessori for this.Uh, you won't see any long benches with children in rows or heavy desks that separate children.Children are free to interact with each other.An-and in Montessori classrooms the furniture is lightweight, so children can move it around easily.And having furniture and materials made to fit them makes kids feel more competent.This fits in with Montessori's notion of liberty and autonomy.Children are free to move around the room, and they learn to do things for themselves.
MALE STUDENT:I'm not sure I get that part. It sounds like potential chaos.
FEMALE PROFESSOR:Oh, no, no, no.Let's not confuse this liberty of activity with lack of discipline.In fact, teachers have to maintain this specific environment carefully through a number of rules, which are generally about respect and what's right.It-it's just that the child needs freedom of choice to develop independence and self-direction.Also, unlike what happens in most conventional classrooms, children choose their own activities.They may be guided by the teacher, but it's ultimately up to each child to select tasks.Which brings us to the manipulative equipment you find in a Montessori classroom, ah, like little boards that have rough or smooth surfaces, or blocks that can be stacked into a tower.Now, this equipment was designed by Montessori over time with much experimentation—designed, um, well, designed to help children teach themselves, through playing.
FEMALE STUDENT:Well, what do the teachers do, I mean, if the kids are teaching themselves?
FEMALE PROFESSOR:Ah, well, that's a good question.To start, uh, a child may not work with an activity until the teacher has demonstrated its proper use.Then the Montessori teacher's job is to observe the child's play, because when the children "play" they're acquiring the basis for later concepts.So the teacher helps motivate and focus each child and monitors the child's progress, but does not interfere with the child's observations and deductions.That was—and still is—a novel idea, and—for many teachers—not the easiest thing to do.In fact, for some it's very difficult.Montessori herself called the teacher a "director."Remember, the independence of the learner lies at the heart of the Montessori methodology.
FEMALE STUDENT:OK, yeah, it does seem like the teacher'd need a lot of training and patience.
FEMALE PROFESSOR:True. As I said, it's not easy for a lot of teachers to step back like that.But getting back to the equipment.Basic Montessori equipment can be divided into a number of major subject areas, such as Practical Life, Mathematics, and what is called Sensorial.With the sensorial equipment the children can explore things like sounds and textures.At the same time they develop motor skills.But this apparent play is laying the groundwork for later math and language work.Now let's take a look at the materials called "brown stairs."For a young child playing with these graduated blocks, these uh, brown stairs, they are not just a sensorial lesson.By manipulating them, the child develops fine motor skills and by sorting and classifying them by size, by weight, the child learns some basic mathematics.…Similarly, with Practical Life equipment, the child can learn how to button a shirt, cut up an apple for a snack, and, uh, other real-world tasks.
MALE STUDENT:With all this integration and real-world learning, is there any room for creativity?
FEMALE PROFESSOR:Is creativity encouraged?Well, Montessori teachers wouldn't praise a child for using a violin as a baseball bat or for putting it on their head like a hat.But, actually, creativity comes through learning to play the violin, using the object for the purpose it was intended, and Practical Life exercises stress that.