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What’s Really Behind The Montessori Way of Learning?

How much do you know about this educational philosophy and how will it suit your little one? Experts share some surprising facts.

This revolutionary teaching method, pioneered by Dr Maria Montessori in 1907 to teach poor kids in Rome, is a familiar one to Singaporeans. But if you’re planning to enrol Junior in a Montessori preschool, read on to find out what it’s really about – you may be surprised at what you learn.

Montessori was allowed to work only with younger kids – “And those were children between the ages of 2-5, who were too young to attend school (and) were typically kept in a room the entire day while their parents worked,” explains Sharon Grace Alcantra, an academic coordinator at Brighton Montessori.

Mentally challenged children paved the way forward – What’s often written about is her work with mentally challenged kids, who proved to her that everyone is capable of learning.

It is suitable for every child – This is an individualised learning approach that builds on the intrinsic motivation to learn, says Grace Yong, founding principal of Character Montessori. In a conventional classroom setting, children grasp the information differently and at various rates, resulting in learning gaps. “In the Montessori approach, such learning disparities do not exist. The materials are carefully designed and graded in such a way that the progression from introduction to the mastery of a new concept is seamless,” she adds. Each child will work on a set of materials – and master the concept – before progressing to the next, which takes him to the next level of difficulty.  Kids therefore always have control of their own learning process and have the satisfaction of achieving mastery in the tasks given to them. This naturally results in the development of their intrinsic motivation to learn.

Dr. Montessori empowered child-friendly classrooms – Through observation, Dr Montessori realised that children had the ability to decide what they wanted to work with, and would do so with a strong focus from start to finish, shares Sharon. Hence she built low, open shelves so that kids could easily access learning materials, instead of things being kept under lock and key. “Children need routine and order to help them make sense of the world around them, and this is well embedded in the Montessori curriculum,” says Grace. “Young children feel secure when their world is well ordered and structured because they know what to expect and what’s expected of them.”

It provides a conducive learning environment – Montessori learning cultivates independence and helps development of physical (gross and fine motor skills), creativity and social skills, says Sharon. “Kids are encouraged to socialise with each other to facilitate peer teaching and emotional development,” she adds, explaining that children also learn how to do things for themselves, and build confidence and self-esteem through such interactions. The Montessori approach is typically multi-sensory, sequential and self-correcting, so that kids will learn things through their own without having to rely heavily on the teacher.”

Small is truly beautiful – “Teaching is mostly done one-on-one or in self-selected small groups; large-group teaching is rarely done in Montessori classrooms,” says Sharon. The teacher-to-pupil ratio is also kept small, to ensure quality and holistic care is given to each child. But all these come with a price, which is why Montessori classes cost substantially more than regular preschools. The materials are custom-made as well. Quips Sharon: “The building of kid-sized furniture started here too!

Teachers are designers and more – Montessori teachers give each child time and pace to develop her physical, intelligence, emotional and social development,” says Ivy. In a nutshell, notes Sharon, they are classroom designers, demonstrators, recorders and observers of children’s behaviour and development – readily adapting external environmental factors to suit the childs’ needs.

How to tell if it is the real deal? – Unfortunately, the name was never legally protected, so there’s no official governing body to check on the authenticity and operation of such schools. “It’s really up to parents to do their own homework and due diligence”, advises Audrey. Authentic Montessori classrooms should be equipped with the full range of Montessori learning apparatus covering the five major areas of Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics and Cultural.

It prepares him for primary school – Audrey notes that many Montessori schools in Singapore integrate elements of the traditional teaching approach, so their Kindergarten 2 children will have a smoother transition into Primary 1. “This may not be a bad thing, as I feel it’s only fair to prepare the children who will be entering the local primary schools, and equip them with the skills to succeed not only in a Montessori setting but in other environments, too.”

… And for life – The emphasis on routine and structure in the Montessori programme creates a stable, secure environment in which children are able to cooperate well with adults, explains Grace. Self-assured kids with a strong sense of self-worth are much more ready to show kindness and respect, accept correction and extend forgiveness. Self-management and reflective skills enable them to make the right decisions even when they’re upset.


By Anita Yee, Young Parents PreSchool Guide, 2014

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