The Maria Montessori Approach in Early Childhood
The Montessori approach in early childhood recognizes that young children are natural learners, learning through self-direction and their own curiosity. Learn more about this important type of early learning from CareNectar expert Mirella Alexis.
The Maria Montessori Method
The Maria Montessori teaching method believes that young children can self-direct their own activities, are hands-on in their own learning, and are collaborative in their play with fellow classmates. This approach is child-centered and believes that while teachers or caregivers can give a child age-appropriate activities and help guide the task, the role of the teacher is not to monopolize or lead the activity. While the Montessori approach is considered an important and influential component of the early childhood system, it is often misunderstood. Learn more about the Montessori approach here, including its history and how it promotes a range of skills for young children.
The History of Montessori
The Montessori approach, founded by Maria Montessori—a doctor, scientist, educator, and innovator in how we approach teaching in a child’s most formative years—recognizes that children are natural learners and should be educated in all aspects of life, not just preparing them for a single vocation. In 1906, Maria Montessori was asked to create a childcare program for children in a disadvantaged and underserved community in Rome. She then opened Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) for these children, who by many were considered unable to learn.
With Maria Montessori’s understanding that children have a natural desire to learn and her continued observation of how children interact with their environment, she developed activities and learning materials with which they were able to engage and learn. This success of the school and her approach to children’s learning led to its popularity throughout Italy, Western Europe, and the United States, with the United States opening its first school Montessori school in 1911. You can learn more about the History of the Montessori approach here.
Since the Montessori method centers on promoting independence and natural curiosity in children, it’s very different from traditional teaching methods. It requires a less strict and structured approach, and instead is focused on a child’s individual needs. A Montessori environment focuses on different sensory activities—and includes child-size furniture and developmentally appropriate tools that allow children to participate in everyday activities, such as cooking, cleaning, and playing. Children also don’t sit at desks; they sit on the floor, mats, chairs, and cushions that provide them with space to work individually or with others.
Another prominent component of the Montessori method is the focus on self-motivation rather than rewards or treats. Instead of motiving through external gratification, such as stickers or treats, children receive internal gratification from trying or learning something new or completing an activity. Verbal praise can also be used, but not extensively. A child seeking out pleasure from a job well done will feel pride and confidence that will help them become self-starters. These benefits can last a lifetime!
Montessori and Reggio Emilia
The Montessori method is very similar to the Reggio Emilia method in early childhood learning. One of the most significant factors that set them apart, however, is their focal points. The Montessori method focuses on a child’s independent learning, while the Reggio Emilia approach focuses on collaborative learning. Despite their differences, both offer fluid learning environments that differ greatly from traditional teacher-centered learning styles.
The Montessori approach may not work for all, since every child doesn’t thrive on independence or lack of structure. As an early childhood professional, educator, and lover of learning, I don’t subscribe to any single approach. When working with children and families, I pull from both Montessori and Reggio Emilia, as well as other approaches to best serve a child and family’s needs. I also use personal experience, knowledge, and cultural attributes to best serve those I work with.
When working with young children, many providers find it best to be fluid and open-minded. At such a young age, children usually have yet to find their preferred learning style, and this can always change over time. As an early learning professional, I recommend that parents and caregivers do the same. We don’t want to pass on our own biases or tendencies because this could only hinder a child’s growth and potential. Let the child lead you into discovery because that’s where the magic and wonderment of childhood can be found.
Meet The Expert
Mirella has been a family and childcare advocate for nearly two decades. With her bachelor’s degree in early childcare education, Mirella immediately started expanding her portfolio as a professional nanny, early childhood educator, and newborn care specialist. She later obtained her certification in child nutrition, positive discipline, and child abuse prevention. She expanded her professional reach more in 2016 by taking on the role of labor and postpartum doula. In 2020, Mirella became the Vice President of The Nanny Sitter Fund. She’s excited to be bringing her passion for childcare to the masses, making child welfare everyone’s responsibility. Learn more about her at MirellaAlexis.com