The Montessori Method
It is contended that in order for any kind of education to be effective children’s needs must be paramount. Children need to feel valued, especially special needs children, who at some point do realise that they are different from other children. Fostering self-confidence and self-belief by acknowledging children from the very beginning goes a long way to alleviating the emotional problems that so often accompany learning disabilities.
The educational system must fit children; children should not be expected to fit the educational system, therefore the educational system is required to change. The teacher is therefore required to ‘follow’ children through observing children interacting with the learning materials. From this observation the teacher is better able to direct lessons that best suit children’s level of development.
The emphasis of the Montessori method is not on how much children can achieve and how quickly, but rather on giving children the opportunity to gain mastery at their own speed in all areas of their life. Growth of children can be seen as a series of steps to total independence. In order for children to walk they must first be able to sit upright, then crawl and finally stand. Each previous developmental stage must be mastered in order for the next to be attempted.
Montessori thus places great emphasis on children being able to repeat exercises as many times as they wish, as this refers to a process of inner development, where children learn to make connections between what they experience and classifications and hierarchical categories they have formed. This in turn enables children to act upon their environment. Children should be the final judge of their own competence; once the children’s interest subsides they are ready to move on to the next activity.
The functions that children need to establish fall into two groups: 1) the motor functions where he learns to control his balance, learns to walk and coordinate movement. 2) The sensory functions through which receiving information from the environment, they lay the foundations of their intelligence through a process of observation, comparison and judgement.
Movement is vital to mental development; Montessori children are allowed to move as they learn. Motor and muscular education is designed to help children learn to move and act in a coordinated efficient way.
The practical life exercises are exercises in which children are engaged in domestic chores. These exercises have many learning purposes in a Montessori class: care of the environment, the need for order in the environment, fine and gross motor development, independence, sequencing, left-right movement in individual tasks and building concentration.
The practical life exercises are valuable in remediating fine and gross motor problems, left/right discrimination problems, visual-motor problems, visual-spatial problems as well as supporting the remediation of general visual processing problems.
Children learn through their five senses. The eyes, ears, skin, nose and tongue bring sensory impressions to the brain, where this information is interpreted. The process of interpretation of sensory input is perception.
A typical child in the Montessori classroom is able to match and discriminate sensory information that relates to the visual perception of size, shape, colour, the auditory input of pitch, rhythm and the intensity of sound, the feel of texture, weight, temperature, shape, the taste of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and the sense of smell. The child perceives patterns in shape, colour and number.
Montessori placed great emphasis on sensory education and perceptual development and it is for this reason that the Montessori Method is effective at helping to remediate the auditory and visual processing disorders. Aside from the visual-motor, visual-spatial and left/right discrimination sub-disorders, the method is helpful for visual and auditory perception, reception, discrimination and association problems, as well as being helpful for foreground/background problems and form constancy problems.
A lack of perceptual proficiency often indicates problems with perceptual development. This relates to issues with the ability to discriminate sensory information. Children with these problems may be over-sensitive to certain stimuli or not sensitive enough to others. Perceptual problems often appear in the inability to discriminate and associate numbers and letter-sound correspondences.
The aim of the sensorial material and exercises is to aid children in the process of classification within and orientation to their environment and to develop the children’s perceptual abilities. The sensorial material offers children experiences from which they are able to draw abstract knowledge. This manipulatable equipment encourages both fine and gross motor development and utilises children’s visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile senses as he deals with colour, size, texture, quantity and shape. With these materials, children manipulate, pair, grade, compare and match, drawing their own conclusions according to their level of ability and perceptions.
Due to the sensorial materials and exercises provided in the Montessori classroom remediation of the visual and auditory processing disorders is possible. Not only are ample opportunities provided for the development and improvement of visual and auditory processing abilities, but also plenty support is provided by the development of the other senses. This is a truly multisensory approach.
These materials are designed to help the children’s mind to focus on some particular quality and by active manipulation leads to a comparison of these objects along the line of that particular attribute. The materials isolate difficulty, contain points of interest, contain a control of error, encourage auto-education, and are graded to ensure children have a reasonable chance of success and challenge; they begin with the concrete emphasis and lead to abstract emphasis. Finally these materials teach concepts rather than facts.
Children’s success at school can largely be determined by the children’s language background. Many varied language experiences are necessary to build and enrich children’s foundation for learning to read and write. In Montessori a unified approach to language development is adopted. The importance of the early formative years for absorbing language is recognised. The sensitive periods for reading and writing are utilised. There are materials and exercises designed to impart and improve skills in listening, speaking, reading and writing.
Learning disabled children may or may not have oral language difficulties. When children do not have oral language problems, language problems usually only become evident when the children are trying to learn to read or write. Other children may exhibit problems with articulation. Auditory discrimination and memory problems may also cause children difficulties with language.
After this early preparation, the activities that actually introduce writing and reading are conducted at the same time. This is because it is easier to appreciate someone else’s thoughts if the children experience the satisfaction of recording their own thoughts. Also, words children have written will be readily recognised in reading and words read often will naturally become part of children’s repertoire of words to write. Reading and writing are necessary components of each other and complementary to each other.
By understanding children and the way learning takes place Montessori attempted to elevate children and follow children according to their natural way of being. This reduces the stress that children experience associated with learning. This stress is also a contributing factor to some children’s inability to learn.
This concept is pivotal to Montessori’s theory and contends that children should be given a secure place with everything they need in order to flourish. For learning disabled children the organised environment gives them a place free from over-stimulation that can cause confusion and enough stimulation to encourage learning and the development of self-confidence.
The environment and materials at Flutterbys are based on these principles and followed as closely as possible, but the environment and materials are specifically adapted in certain ways to meet the needs of the children. As the children become more confident and progress sufficiently the materials start to resemble the Montessori materials more closely.