Learning in Theory and Practice: Montessori’s approach in a Pre-school classroom with a focus on Mathematics
The Montessori Method was incepted by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, and educator, who lived from 1870 to 1952. The method entails application of scientific modes of tutoring theoretical concepts in children during their developmental stages. Montessori published her book on this approach in 1912 (Montessori, 2013). This approach has been employed in modern education and referred to as ‘Montessori Education,’ a system of enlightenment that is based on hands-on learning, self-directed activity, and collaborative learning. Children in Montessori classrooms make creative choices in the course of their education (Ruijs, 2017). Teachers, on the other hand, offer events appropriate to children age to facilitate and guide creative process. It is this method that children can explore and develop their maximum potential by working both individually and in groups to learn real knowledge.
The Montessori approach is used in educating children aged between three and six years. This age bracket is mainly that of a pre-school child (Montessori, 2013). This paper will explore the Montessori approach in learning theory and practice in a pre-school classroom with a focus on mathematics as a subject. The research on this topic aims at studying the different stages of Montessori curriculum with an emphasis on math in pre-school. Furthermore, the objective also extends to understanding the six principles of Montessori Method relating to their relevance in a pre-school classroom. The discussion will explore Montessori’s theory and explicitly base on its applications in mathematics, the concepts of work, and criticism this approach is faced. Additionally, argument staged will be compared with others stating why this method is best suited in child education. The research will conclude with an understanding of the utility, limitations, and the effect of Montessori approach in learning. This topic has been chosen because, mathematics being an abstract/theoretical concept, enable children to learn math at a younger age by exploring, manipulating materials, taking in information through their senses and holding it for long. This approach has been inspired by the Montessori Method.
Montessori method/approach is an example of an educational philosophy designed for nurturing social and academic growth especially on pre-school children (Morgan, Morgan & Alvarez, 2007). This approach is one of several other procedures such as Waldorf-Steiner, Froebel, and Reggio Emilia that mainly focus on the three main aspects of development namely social, cognitive, and intellectual (Mooney, 2015). Theories related to child development are created purposely to drive the child towards self-discovery. However, the four approaches have some similarities and minor differences since they mainly focus on the same objective of enabling the child to lead themselves in the learning process.
The Montessori approach has been applied mostly to Children’s houses (Kanopy (Firm), 2014). Using this method in mathematics purposes to help children learn math quickly and be able to retain the concepts for long throughout their learning and upbringing. Additionally, the Montessori approach has enabled many children to grow up loving mathematics as a subject. According to Ahmadpour and Mujembari (2015), teachers implementing the Montessori approach in teaching maths, provide ‘Montessori materials’ to children to grasp mathematical concepts speedily. Application of Montessori Method in teaching mathematics involves exploring ideas with senses. A child can learn using hands to study, employ materials being provided to aid in learning and be able to use insights to absorb information from the contents. Dr. Montessori had the belief that, while using the approach, a child could be able to learn mathematics effectively.
Ahmadpour and Mujembari (2015) explain that Montessori curriculum in mathematics learning introduces children to addition of ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands (the significant four category numbers). These concepts of addition are aided by the use of ‘Montessori Math Beads.’ The beads are essential towards helping children understand the relationship between units, tens, hundreds, and thousands. Ahmadpour and Mujembari (2015) expounds that children can significantly gain knowledge regarding the decimal system in mathematics. Initially, this method was introduced to aid in elementary school mathematics learning, but Dr. Montessori observed that children in pre-schools were ready to use the beads in studying four category numbers. As stated above, Montessori curriculum of teaching mathematics enables children to understand the four category numbers after which, they are now introduced to the concept of addition.
Burgess and Evans (2017) outlies that in understanding mathematics, children experience what it means by addition. They begin to add significant numbers, which creates an impression that, as the number of beads is added, the tray in which they are using in adding them becomes heavier. From this, children can understand that addition is about adding ‘small’ numbers to make one ‘large’ number. This sensorial impression is primarily important in ensuring that the concept of addition sticks in the child’s senses. After the concept of using these beads has been absorbed in the children senses, they are then introduced to mathematics operations in abstract form (Brown, 2016). Notably, by the abstract way, it means that children now are taught using pen and paper. Together with the Montessori math materials, children use a paper and a pen to memorize the significant concepts and facts about mathematics. At the end of the learning process, children will not only have memorized math facts but also, will have learned and understood mathematics (Ahmadpour & Mujembari, 2015).
Montessori approach in learning mathematics is necessary because children can learn math facts at their own pace (Gutek & Gutek, 2016). As a result of slow progressive learning, the child can quickly understand what it is being taught, memorize, and retain concepts for long. Burgess and Evans (2017) assert that this fosters positive attitude in loving mathematics and viewing the subject in an entirely different dimension from how it is always being perceived. Unlike traditional classrooms, Montessori classrooms differ significantly. In traditional classes, teachers only focus on exploring the two senses; seeing and listening to the teacher whereas, in Montessori courses, the teacher ensures that all the five senses are explored (Lillard, 2016). Dr. Montessori created many activities that can enable children to independently at their own pace as well concentrate on their work to achieve success in learning and developing good characters (Holfester, 2014). A Montessori classroom is characterized by teachers who are educated, children engaged in learning activities, an environment that is safe and conducive for learning, and children working either on the floor or tables in a comfortable manner (Ahmadpour & Mujembari, 2015).
According to Burgess and Evans (2017), the concept of ‘work’ in a Montessori classroom or environment, implies the process of undertaking a fulfilling activity to bring satisfaction in oneself. In the context of a pre-school Montessori classroom, the teacher gladly embarks on the task of teaching children and ensuring that they have a positive experience and a desirable environment to learn (Burgess & Evans, 2017). The term ‘work’ in Montessori means embarking on an activity purposely in the accomplishment of fundamental purpose by integrating body, soul, and mind. Moreover, with the focus on the child, a Montessori environment provides children with freedom to choose what they want to be involved in. The choice is not forced on them (Hainstock, 1997). This freedom means that children choose consistently and independently the type of activities they like to pursue provided that, these activities can enable the child develop both in memory and understanding (Ahmadpour & Mujembari, 2015). The child’s working is demonstrated by the ability to master skills by often repeating the same task until the capability is achieved, concentrate for long durations of time and effortlessly participate in every activity. This type of experience makes a child happy and focused. This concept is mainly implemented in pre-school children because at their age; it is the best period to instill positive personality and mind-set towards learning mathematics and enabling the child be organized (Faust, 1984).
Montessori Method has various principles that are essential in early child development. These principles include sensitive periods, absorbent mind, prepared environment, respect for the child and auto-education. Burgess and Evans (2017) argue that the principle of ‘sensitive periods’ implies that there are times the child portrays behavioral susceptibility to certain behaviors such as writing that can enable them learn new skills much easier. These periods vary in different children. Teachers work to identify the said periods to ensure that the children absorb skills taught. ‘The absorbent mind’ principle implies that children are naturally born to learn new skills from their surroundings (Shawket, 2016). Montessori believed that children could educate themselves, but the skills acquired would largely depend on the environment they grow in, the teachers that engage them, and the experiences they face as they grow (Shawket, 2016). In mathematics, there are periods in time when children can individually be ready to learn mathematical operations when teachers are applying and using Montessori approach and learning materials; the child can acquire mathematical concepts readily and efficiently.
Burgess and Evans (2017) explain that the third principle that is ‘the prepared environment’ is characterized by freedom. The environment is enabling for the child to learn, be active and independent. A prepared environment provides learning materials to the child in a predefined orderly manner thereby allowing them do things the way they want by freely exploring materials offered. In a pre-school environment, mathematics can be best taught when the child is provided with materials to work with and allowed to work on themselves (Thayer-Bacon, 2012). The principle of ‘respect for the child’ uncovers that children have their own unique needs that are sometimes disregarded by both teachers and parents which implies that they do not respect children. Montessori approach applies this principle; it allows children have choices in developing their abilities to nurture their self-esteem in learning, for instance, mathematics skills of addition. The respect is portrayed when the teachers are assistive to children by allowing them learn for themselves (Bărbieru, 2016).
Burgess and Evans (2017) claim that the principle of ‘auto education’ defines children ability to educate themselves. This principle is facilitated by provision of prepared environments. Moreover, children are given freedom to choose their preferred activities to educate themselves. All the above-described principles were developed by Dr. Montessori to enable teachers provide a child-centered approach towards teaching pre-school children. The teacher, in this case, plays a role in introducing learning materials to children, respecting them, preparing the learning environment, observing them, and finally encouraging them to learn (Corcoran, 1924).
Despite the effectiveness in the implementation of Montessori’s approach in teaching pre-school children, it has been subject to criticism. One of the major critics of Montessori’s method of education was an educational reformer, psychologist, and an American philosopher John Dewey (Faust, 1984). First, he believed that the Montessori’s method of teaching children did not foster creativity because he thought it had too many restrictions. Secondly, he rejected Montessori’s philosophy of using phonetics since he held a divergent thought in teaching children on how to read the called ‘look-say’ method. Thirdly, Montessori’s method of teaching involved children aged between three and six years whereby they could be taught once they were ready to learn. However, Dewey criticized this stating that children should not be educated on how to read until they attain the age of eight (Thayer-Bacon, 2012).
Finally, Montessori’s philosophy was meant to allow children use materials specifically designed to acquire a specific skill. The specificity of materials was essential in ensuring that children gained the skills that the elements were specifically created to provide. Dewey did not agree with this and stated that children should be allowed to learn what they want to learn at their own free will with whatever materials they have at their disposal (Dewey, 2010).
Kilpatrick, a successor of John Dewey, was another leading detractor to Montessori’s philosophy. First, Kilpatrick criticised Montessori’s learning materials stating that these elements were irrelevant to children lives (Thayer-Bacon, 2012). Like his predecessor, John Dewey, he also viewed Montessori’s materials as barriers to children creativity courtesy of their specificity in functional design. Secondly, he believed that a child should be taught writing, arithmetic, and reading (the three R’s) after they were past six years old. Thirdly, unlike Montessori’s approach of allowing children work independently, Kilpatrick argued that there was need for social cooperation in the learning environment. He criticised Montessori’s schools because they lacked teamwork and instructions to aid the learning process of children (Thayer-Bacon, 2012). Moreover, Kilpatrick made an argument that the arithmetic taught to children did not have any significance in America. Finally, he described Montessori’s approach as misleading due to lack of scientific evidence supporting that the method was essential in nurturing a child’s development (Montessori, 2004).
Other several theories relate to Montessori’s approach but instead operate under different principles. For instance, Jean Piaget created an argument regarding cognitive-developmental stage (Rowland, 2012). Through this philosophy, Piaget believed that the environment surrounding children was influential in the process of their development. He also thought that children obtained new life skills and understanding as they grow by working, modifying, and manipulating ideas (Karplus & Lavatelli, 1968). This means that children are responsible of creating their own experience and learning by themselves rather than doing what they are instructed. Furthermore, Piaget introduced the concept of schema. Piaget suggested that knowledge existing in a human’s mind is organized into schemas. In the process of learning, children can add, change, or develop a new schema (Brown & Desforges, 2006). About Montessori’s theory, children at the age of pre-school, are categorized in the preoperational stage where they interact with the world and learn the language.
Friedrich Froebel developed a method used to present times in kindergarten education. Froebel believed that parents played an essential role in their children’s learning process because they can foster the children’s individual needs to grow in their potential. From this method, children are provided with an environment that stimulates learning process. This technique also establishes that there is a close relationship between the school and home aiming at teaching emotional, physical, spiritual, social, and academic areas of development for a child (David, Goouch & Powell, 2016). Social participation, self-expression, motor expression, and creativity are four main components of the said method. This philosophy stresses that a teacher is a guide, the class should be prepared, the movement is imperative, learning is driven by playing, and children only learn what they are ready to study (Bruce, 2015).
From an in-depth critical analysis of learning in theory and practice, Montessori’s method is the best appropriate approach in teaching mathematics in a pre-school classroom (Null, 2016). Through this approach, a child is prepared sufficiently for the real-world experiences. Additionally, children are accompanied by people of different ages. Notably, by using Montessori’s method, children establish capability of thinking analytically to solve a mathematical concept, work independently to acquire a skill, and self-discipline by being persistent in aiming to gain a skill (Isaacs, 2015).
The Montessori materials are essential in aiding learning of mathematics through organization of these elements. Burgess and Evans (2017) explain that this method emphasizes the understanding of mathematical concepts rather than just memorization. Therefore, when teachers guide children through learning process, toddlers can grasp mathematical concepts, internalize them and remember them for a long time as they grow. This method of learning is essential in teaching pre-school children because it is easy to implement and creates a positive attitude towards math (Rose, Jolley & Charman, 2012). As a result, children grow up loving mathematics and even eager to learn more concepts.
The Montessori Method is appropriate in the context such that, lessons are organized. In a Montessori curriculum, there are three categories of lessons namely language lessons, sensory lessons, and practical life lessons (Murray, 2011). The teacher focuses on monitoring the way a child can learn the language of speaking by providing language lessons. Since Montessori’s approach is all about exploring all the senses in a child, therefore, children can acquire skills by themselves rather than the teacher being overinvolved in the process (Bărbieru, 2016). By using Montessori’s materials such as beads in learning arithmetic, children can learn new concepts practically rather than just theoretically. Finally, this approach is appropriate in teaching mathematics to young children because it allows them to be creative in the process consequently fostering maturity as they develop in learning.
According to Burgess and Evans (2017), the primary focus of Montessori’s approach to the education of pre-school children is to develop both cognitive, emotional, social, and physical abilities. The effectiveness of this method is facilitated by providing a background of mathematics, for instance, helping children understand what calculation is and why they are studying math in the simplest way possible. Furthermore, by focusing on the most sensitive times that the child can obtain particular skills, children can understand basic concepts in mathematics. The use of this approach has been shown to be useful in the context having been implemented in many schools in America (Brown, 2016).
The Montessori approach is an essential method of learning theory since it provides insights into developing an active practice. First, children are given freedom to work independently and therefore, can explore new activities by themselves without unnecessary interruptions from others and the teacher. Secondly, in Montessori’s classroom, the age of children ranges from three years to six years. The varying ages enable children who are older than the others to show them basic simple tasks. The younger ones can learn in the process (Lillard, 2016). Mathematics is a concept that takes time to grasp. Montessori’s learning approach ensures that children learn at their own pace and can maximumly acquire new skills over time. Finally, children’s freedom to choose activities they are interested in creates enthusiasm to learn.
Montessori’s method in spite of having many advantages and utility to the learning practice, has some limitations as well. First, Montessori schools are quite expensive due to the individualized monitoring of the child’s progress in learning (Feez, 2013). Secondly, this method is characterized by an environment where there are individual participation and independence. This limits favourability of a child who is socially active to focus on independent tasks. Thirdly, Montessori’s method does not grade children, and therefore their progress is not monitored. Lastly, children who grow up in this environment, may not understand the essence of competition. The study of this approach has been essential in understanding various philosophies applied in early childhood development education (Roopnarine & Johnson, 2013).
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