Children want to learn, and are drawn to learn different things at different stages of development. The young child from birth through age six wants to learn the facts: the names and functions of objects and how to do tasks. The child from six to twelve wants to know about relationships. A child needs help in making sense out of all the aspects of the world.
Providing that help is the basis of the Montessori method of education. Maria Montessori, an Italian Physician, was frustrated by the rigid way schools educated children in the early 1900s. She observed that before age six, children have an “absorbent mind” that gives them the ability to take in and remember details of their environment, from daily routines, to the names of objects, to what people like and dislike. Children from six to twelve have a “reasoning mind” and seek to learn about cause and effect as well as how people relate to each other. Children need to organize and classify this information. Dr. Montessori believed adults could best help children do this by creating a “prepared environment” that offers both structure and freedom. The structure comes from the order of the classroom and knowing how and why to use different materials. The freedom comes from the children’s ability to choose their own tasks, work at their own pace, and move ahead as the desire to know something more and something different becomes important.
Montessori classrooms for children ages 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and 12-14 are self-contained and multi-age leveled. Children usually stay with the same teacher for three years. The older children in each level help the younger ones while reinforcing their own learning and developing leadership skills.
The 3-6 classes have an extended morning session for K-3 and K-4 students lasting for three and a half hours each morning. The K-5 students stay all day.
Elementary classrooms extend beyond the immediate room. The school library is an important resource where students do independent research. Older children and adolescents leave the building frequently with adult supervision, to extend their research by consulting with sources in the community.
How does it work at MPS?
The Milwaukee Public School system has seven public Montessori Schools: Maryland Avenue Montessori School (K3-8), Craig Montessori (K3-8), Fernwood Montessori (K3-8), Bay View Montessori (upper and lower), Lloyd Barbee Montessori (K3-6), Riley Dual Language Montessori (K3- slow growing) and MacDowell Montessori (K3-12). This is one of the largest groups of public Montessori schools in the United States. A longitudinal study was recently completed which found that Montessori education has a positive long-term impact on students’ grade point averages, and Montessori students are successful as they enter traditional schools (Association Montessori International-USA).
Montessori children are unusually adaptable, having learned to work independently and in groups. They have been trusted to make decisions about their education, and become very self-reliant and able to manage their time well. The Montessori child develops good communication skills and problem-solving ability because s/he has been encouraged to exchange ideas freely with others. The self-confidence gained from a Montessori education is truly priceless.