Montessori education is unfamiliar to many. Some think they know what it means, but when the topic comes up, they often say that Montessori schools are loosely structured environments in which children can do whatever they like. The teachers are in the background, and kids move freely through the environment. Where is the truth in these statements?
Dr. Maria Montessori developed this innovative educational method by carefully observing children. She created materials that allow learning to occur through students’ use of their hands to manipulate materials in ways that demonstrate a certain concept, following the children’s path. What she did not do was allow children to do whatever they liked whenever they chose to do it. She did not have a loosely structured environment. Quite the contrary.
In order for children to be free to explore, the classroom environment must be organized, and a schedule must be firmly established. Children must understand the ways in which materials are used. They need to understand the expectations and know the rules. When I first encountered Montessori classrooms, I was amazed at how tightly run they were. I did not understand this before I saw them in action. I, too, was under the misconception of the loosely run environment.
Children feel safest when they know what to expect. Being safe and cared for are foundations for learning. Learning cannot take place in an environment that is disorganized and unpredictable. Though it may be difficult to view the environment as essential to learning, upon deeper reflection it is clear that, in order to build relationships, entertain new and challenging ideas, explore and risk failure, the structure has to be there to support and encourage each child to learn. Dr. Montessori made sure that those employing this educational method partnered with their surroundings to make it the best experience possible. Take a look around a Wilmington Montessori School classroom, and it’s easy to see this concept in action!