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Montessori environments are beautiful, full of natural light, wooden beads and blocks, books of all kinds, and flowers in glass vases. Montessori classrooms are alive with movement and sound. Students, whether 5 or 15 years old, move about the classroom to take things off shelves, to discuss a project with a classmate, to put things away. Montessori students are busy. Some are working alone, bent over a mat on the floor or sitting at a small table. Some are gathered around a teacher, in conversation during a lesson. Others are working in groups, their voices and bodies and minds engaged in collaborative work.
In a Montessori classroom, order and creativity coexist. Animated conversation and silent observation work together in the same space. In the best environments, children of all races and cultures learn side by side.
Through careful observation of how children work and interact, Maria Montessori developed what we think of as the Montessori Method more than 100 years ago. She began her work in the slums of Rome, and her vision has spread throughout the world.
The Montessori approach offers children intentionally prepared environments that are full of beauty and order. Materials in the classroom are appealing and designed to meet the developmental needs of each child. Montessori-trained teachers are the bridge between the environment and the student, first through careful observation of each child, and then by providing appropriate instruction and guidance.
What do children in a Montessori classroom gain? They learn reading, math, science, history, and geography – the subjects they need to know. But they get this knowledge through their own desire to learn, by following their passions and making connections between ideas and subject areas. They seldom learn only by listening to a teacher or reading a text book. Instead, they learn by doing things, working collaboratively, making mistakes, and solving problems. Rather than learning only well enough for the next test, this kind of learning sticks, reaching far beyond tests and becoming a part of each child’s identity, helping them to emerge fully in their world.