What is Montessori?

Montessori units within Bellevue and Arataki Schools offer an enriching and challenging Montessori curriculum for students aged 6-12.  Teachers facilitate creativity, independent thinking and responsibility through a specially prepared environment.  Within this prepared environment the child is able to work at their own pace with a logical sequence of activities and materials.  Teachers make careful observations and record each child’s progress.

The environment and class culture excites the imagination and entices the primary-age child into a quest for knowledge. Historical timelines, pictorial charts, mathematical materials, collections of specimens, stimulating discussions, a teacher to facilitate and support learning stimulates independent thinking and drives individual progress and learning at the child’s pace.

Maria Montessori was, in many ways, ahead of her time. She was born in 1870 and graduated in 1896 as the first woman doctor in Italy. In her medical practice her clinical observations led her to analyse how children learn and she concluded that they built themselves from what they found in their environment. Children teach themselves. This simple but profound truth inspired Montessori’s lifelong pursuit of educational reform and teacher training. Her legacy is a philosophy of life, a unique method of education, materials with which to educate and a system of training that produces teachers who can give children the best possible foundation for life.

The Montessori materials and lessons developed by Dr Montessori have withstood the test of time. The skills developed and the progression from simplex to complex and concrete to abstract meet the needs of children today just as they did in Rome at the beginning of last century.

Traditional schools are beginning to embrace aspects of Montessori education such as concrete learning materials, multi-age level classes, children setting their own learning goals, teaching to individual needs and strengths, process focused assessment, an integrated curriculum across subject areas and a focus on the whole child. The latest NZ school curriculum now embraces personalised and inquiry based learning.

Montessori primary children learn to structure their own individual work schedules. The children are used to long periods of work (the three hour work cycle) and they themselves determine the duration of time they work on a particular project. The key is to help the child establish a balanced work day. The class and its activities flow naturally throughout the day. Children move between friends and their work, helping and joining group lessons when asked. Despite the individualism of the class there is still a strong feeling of cohesion as the class meets at least once every day to hear other children’s projects and stories, enjoy music, discuss difficulties and play group games.

A cornerstone of the Montessori Primary class is the multi age groupings of 6–9 and 9–12 year olds. Children stay in one group for up to three years and will usually have the same teachers for that time. This age grouping allows for peer learning (younger children learn from the older ones, while the process of teaching the younger ones reinforces the older child’s  knowledge and learning), enhanced teacher child relationship, broad social development and opportunities for leadership and friendships resulting in a co-operative social community based on respect of self and others. Younger children are naturally interested in the work of the older children, so the older children serve as tutors and role models instilling a sense of pride. The wide range of age and ability also builds in each child a tolerance and appreciation for difference. The emphasis in a Montessori classroom is on cooperation rather than competition.