THE MAGIC OF MONTESSORI
By Ian Moller
Grandfather of Mikhaela, aged 6
How is it, I ask myself, that our three-year-old grandson Declan can sing lustily to me in legible Italian with obvious enjoyment; is he already at school? No. Does he study opera? No. Has he over-indulged in Pizza with the Lot? Possibly!
The answer lies in the fact that his six-year-old sister Mikhaela has attended Melbourne Montessori School from the age of three and a half, and takes great delight in imparting her daily dose of exciting new skills.
Dr Maria Montessori, an Italian physician (1870-1952), had a genius for observing children as individuals, and developed an educational philosophy based on nurturing the spirit of each child by a sensitive and stimulating learning system, using specially designed materials to inspire the child’s own natural desire to learn. No regimented rows of desks, freedom to choose an activity, a hands-on approach that allows the child to demonstrate to their OWN satisfaction the subject of interest, children moving around the classroom, selecting and assembling project material and, importantly, replacing them after use.
From conception to age 4, an individual develops 50 per cent of mature intelligence and a further 30 per cent from ages 4 to 8, hence early environment has a great influence on this development, and the enriched resources at Montessori stimulate and encourage learning at the child’s own pace.
The learning materials are divided into three categories:
* Practical life exercises for three to four year olds
* Sensory skills (look, touch, smell, listen)
* Academic materials (reading, mathematics, geography)
Classes are of mixed age groups and are non-competitive. Parent involvement is mandatory, they being required to provide set hours of practical assistance in class or the office, participate in external working bees, etc. or financial support in lieu, creating a vibrant school community. There is a network of Montessori schools around Australia, with ten located in metropolitan Melbourne.
This sketchy overview does not do justice to an innovative education system which produces well-adjusted kids with inquiring minds and a respect for others. I cannot help but contrast it to my own early schooling, where my father (a head teacher) and one lady teacher taught 42 pupils from grades 1 to 8 in one room, in a tiny country village without electricity or any of the other trappings of modern civilization.
Oh, by the way – Italian is the second language at this particular Montessori school, and will be taught at all classes from next year. Molto bene, eh?