Maria Montessori’s approach to early years education was developed around a century ago. Its reputation grew internationally over the years and is currently one of the most well-known educational philosophies. So what is it that makes it so enduring?
The Montessori philosophy begins by recognising the crucial importance of early years in future learning; it also asserts that children have the greatest capacity to learn between the ages of zero to six. At Alphablocks Nursery School & Pre-Prep, Hadley Wood, we share this belief and consider it as a key tenet of our school’s ethos. We also share the same overarching goal of fostering competent and responsible children who become lifelong learners.
Montessori practices around the world try to achieve these goals by employing a set of clear principles in their day-to-day practice. At Alphablocks Nursery School & Pre-Prep, Hadley Wood, we believe that some of these Montessori principles can be extremely effective and, as such, deserve paying attention to. In fact, we incorporate them into our own practice. So here they are:
- Keep a balance between freedom and structure. Children need to be given freedom of choice, but they also need a structure in their routine and the environment. At the heart of this challenge lies the nature of the activities that children take part in: on one hand, there are activities that the child initiates and, on the other, activities in which the child is led to participate into. Without freedom of choice, children can’t learn to teach themselves through play and exploration. And without structure and adult support, children will not be able to know where to focus their learning. The Early Years Foundation Stage framework recognises the importance of getting this balance right:
‘There is an ongoing judgement to be made by practitioners about the balance between activities led by children, and activities led or guided by adults.’ EYFS framework
- Plan the child’s environment. The overall layout, presentation and arrangements of the learning materials is considered to be central to the learning needs of a child. Montessori classrooms are not only well-planned but are also aesthetically pleasing, warm and inviting. They are equipped with multi-sensory materials and living things, such plants or pets that the child can care for. The resources are carefully selected and each part is used for a particular purpose, such as introducing the child to the process of abstraction and sequencing. Children learn how to respect the environment and teachers ensure that the environment is calming and does not over-stimulate the child. The same principles hold true for the outdoors environment and external playgrounds, which are considered just as important as indoors resources.
- Foster independence in children. Children learn how to be independent through practical life experiences. They learn to master day-to-day tasks and overcome practical challenges, such as spooning and pouring, stirring, whisking and grating trays, cutting and threading activities, mopping, polishing, as well as gardening and others. Practical life also includes other self-care skills, such as opening and closing doors, carrying trays and chairs, washing and drying hands, and caring for books. Montessori practices and theEYFS framework recognise these practical life skills as essential for the child’s independence and school readiness.
- Maintain a specific & wide curriculum. Apart from practical life, the Montessori curriculum teaches children sensorial exploration, mathematics, geometry, language, science, fine arts, geography, botany, and learning about different cultures. Children learn about the natural world, geometry and numbers, different cultures, and also how to be creative. All these different topics may sound like a lot to teach a young child, but Montessori practices have both high expectations for their children’s learning outcomes and the proven teaching methodologies to fulfil those expectations.
- Teachers should first observe, then guide. Montessori teachers observe the children in class to ascertain the developmental needs of each individual child. Only then do they begin to plan the environment and the materials around those needs. As children begin to make free choices and interact with this planned environment, teachers go on to facilitate and guide their learning. These are mainly one-to-one sessions between a teacher and a child. There are also small group lessons when new concepts are introduced. In those sessions, children are encouraged to ask questions, investigate and discover new ideas as part of the group.
Alphablocks Nursery School & Pre-Prep in Hadley Wood provides outstanding education to children aged two and a half to six years old. The school employs only the best teachers and practitioners, who implement a child-centred approach to learning. Our primary goal is to empower children to become confident learners in an outstanding environment in terms of its educational potential, balanced play opportunities, safety and security. We serve the local communities of Hadley Wood, Potters Bar, Cockfosters, High Barnet, Totteridge and Whetstone.