Montessori schools in Ontario offer an alternative approach to learning, one that’s focused on meeting the needs of the whole child as they progress through various stages of development. These schools are based on the Montessori method of education developed by Dr. Maria Montessori more than 100 years ago. A woman ahead of her time, she committed to a careful and thorough observation of children, and applied these observations as the basis of her method.
Montessori schools in Ontario and their classrooms differ from traditional schools and classrooms in several important ways:
1. Preparation of the environment
Classrooms are designed intentionally to serve the child and are set up to facilitate independence in all areas. Maria Montessori wrote extensively about the “prepared environment”—how to set it up, maintain it and adapt it to suit the needs of the children in the classroom.
In Montessori classrooms, you’ll see child-sized desks and chairs, shelves with educational materials accessible at the child’s height, artwork, and cultural items displayed at eye level. The classroom also has all the items that a child would need to care for themselves and take care of their classroom. There will be child-sized brooms, washcloths and even items to serve snacks and clean up afterward.
Maria Montessori said that children absorb order from their environment. Their classrooms should be areas of beauty and order. Children help keep the space orderly by returning things to where they found them and developing a sense of ownership and responsibility for their environment.
2. Preparation of the adults
Most Montessori schools in Ontario are taken care of by trained guides. These guides observe and help individual children or small groups but rarely teach the whole classroom at once. Guides are highly respectful of each child’s unique learning path and take great care to introduce them to concepts when they’re ready, not based on an external timetable. It’s their responsibility to prepare the environment each day and to rotate materials on the shelves to meet the needs of the children as they come up.
3. Preparation of the community
In Montessori schools, the community is built around an understanding of the interconnectedness of living things. Routines are established early on that include things like: how to greet each other, how to watch respectfully when someone is working, how to solve problems and disagreements, how to take care of personal hygiene and how to wait while someone else finishes talking.
Each classroom has children from 3 age groups learning alongside each other. The benefits of mixed-age learning environments are well established. The variety of available materials allows for children to work ahead or behind their age group academically, at the pace that suits their unique needs. The mixed ages also create an opportunity for the older children to take on leadership roles in the classroom and for the younger children to benefit from the mentorship that older children provide.
4. Choice and freedom
Maria Montesori called this “freedom within limits.” While the guide prepares the environment and helps to structure the overall day, children have a lot of choice over what their day looks like moment-by-moment. This includes freedom to move around and choose where they do their work, what work they’ll complete and in what order, and often, freedom to choose how they’d show their understanding of a certain topic.
There’s a typical work cycle that happens each day in the classroom. A child takes out a piece of work from the shelf, they complete it, they return it to the shelf, and then they take something else out. In classrooms with younger children, such as the 3-6 year olds, this happens many times a day and a typical child may complete upwards of 10 short activities in a 3-hour work period.
As the children get older, their ability to focus and concentrate increases. They may complete a smaller number of activities in a day, but these activities require longer to complete. This system of self-directed learning is the optimal way to support children’s individual developmental needs. Those who can complete things quickly don’t need to wait until others are finished to move on, and those who need more time can sit with the material as long as they need to.
Adult guides provide lessons to introduce concepts and also move around in the classroom to observe the work cycle and to provide help if needed. Children also benefit from a 3-hour uninterrupted span of time when they can really experience optimal work flow without unnecessary transitions, which can be a source of difficulty for so many children.
Here at IGNITE we offer a fully equipped Montessori program, the Spark Studio, for children aged 4-7 directed by a trained and experienced Montessori guide. If you’d like more information about the program or to see if it would be a good fit for your child, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.