In the Montessori Theory section of the Daily Montessori website we explain the foundation principles and concepts of Montessori theory that can be applied across all ages. Those principles are: Independence, Observation, Following the Child, Correcting the Child, Prepared Environment and Absorbent Mind. It is within these concepts we find the reasoning behind why things are such in a Montessori environment. These are goals and beliefs that Maria Montessori held with regards to the education of children.
"Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed." – Maria Montessori.
It is always a goal of Montessori education in the classrooms to make the child independent and be able to do things for himself. This is achieved by giving children opportunities. Opportunities to move, to dress themselves, to choose what they want to do, and to help the adults with tasks. When the children are able to do things for themselves there is an increase in their self belief, self confidence and esteem that they may carry on throughout their life.
Observation, or watching the child is for parents easy to do. We can spend countless hours just watching children and see how they are enjoying themselves, exploring their environment. This was the simple method of how Maria Montessori has learned about children and developed her theories on child development. She observed without preconceived ideas that helped her develop materials that the children needed and were interested in. Observation is also the way adults can learn about what the child needs are. For example, if a child starts banging on objects, it means that he has a need for that gross motor activity, so give him a drum. If children are pushing things around the room and they need to walk but can't do it themselves yet, help them or give them a wagon to push. This is how observation can help create harmony, fulfilling the child's current needs.
Following the Child
Follow the child, they will show you what they need to do, what they need to develop in themselves and what area they need to be challenged in. “The aim of the children who persevere in their work with an object is certainly not to “learn”; they are drawn to it by the needs of their inner life, which must be recognized and developed by its means.” – Maria Montessori.
From what you have observed from the actions of the children, follow them in what they need to do. If they want to climb, give them the opportunity to climb in a safe manner, do not be overprotective. Following the child also means being non-directive, do not tell them what to do all the time. Give your child the freedom to choose what he wants or needs to do and to act on his own. Do not tell them what they have to do, but rather present them with choices of different materials/toys. Also, stand back and watch the child what he does, there is no need to intervene all the time unless he has become really destructive and about to hurt himself or others. Knowing when to intervene is a skill parents will learn as they get to know their child and as parents have set limits for the child.
Correcting the Child
Children make mistakes. They may spill something, drop food unintentionally and so on. There is no need to raise your voice in situations like those. Instead, calmly recognize the mistake "oh you've spilled the water…, why don’t we get a cloth and wipe it up." This is an opportunity to ask the child to do some valid practical work with you. You will find that children do like to clean up as they see it as something adults do. There is no need to blatantly point out a child’s mistake, there is a way to make them realize it. For example, with a cloth bib a child who is learning how drink from a glass will find out that if he tips the glass a bit too early, the water will spill on him and he will feel it. If they mispronounce a word, there is no need to correct them, but rather say the word correctly. Correcting children may result in them being scared to attempt anything in fear of making another mistake.
Children will make mistakes and we need to teach them in a nice manner. Giving the children freedom and choice, supporting them in their choice by making sure they are safe, feeding their inquiring minds in a way that they can understand and observing their needs and fulfilling these can be the key to helping your children develop their full potential.
"The teacher’s first duty is to watch over the environment, and this takes precedence over all the rest. It’s influence is indirect, but unless it be well done there will be no effective and permanent results of any kind, physical, intellectual or spiritual." – Maria Montessori.
The prepared environment is important part of Montessori. It is the link for a child to learn from adults. Rooms are child sized with activities set up for success and allow freedom of movement and choice. The environment has to be safe for the child to explore freely. The environment has to be ready and beautiful for the children so it invites them to work. Montessori refers to work as an activity the child does or what many people might call play. She calls this work since it is through this that they create themselves and it is not just a play. Their play is their work and they are still enjoying it. The adult’s role then is to construct the environment in which they will learn. The development of the child is therefore dependent on the environment she or he is in, and this environment also includes the parents.
Montessori observed how children learned the language without anyone teaching them. This sparked her idea for the "absorbent mind". Children under the age of three, do not need to have lessons in order to learn, they simply absorb everything in the environment by experiencing it, being part of it. It is therefore important that the environment set up is good, nice and positive since this is what the child will absorb whether he chooses to or not. The language of the adult is one that a child will easily pick up. Be careful of what you say around them. Even though you think they are not listening, as they may not be able to express themselves yet, when they can you will not want them swearing back at you. It is for this reason that one should not try to say "No" to a child. We do not want them saying "No" to us rudely. Instead, we say "Stop" when we want to tell children that what they are doing is wrong.