The Montessori method is named after Dr Maria Montessori. She was born in Italy in 1870 and became the first woman doctor in Italy, qualifying in 1894. She came to education from her work as a GP with children with learning difficulties. These children learnt so well, by using her methods and specially developed materials, that she was praised by many as a miracle worker. It led her to believe that other children are underachieving and she began a crusade to change teaching. As Dr Montessori was a scientist, she approached education in a scientific way, always beginning with observation. The most striking difference you will find on entering the Montessori setting is the unique environment, closely followed by the different way in which the children are working. The environment is calm and orderly, with open shelves displaying activities readily accessible to children. Small ornaments are displayed along the tops of the shelves, plants and flowers brighten the room, natural materials, such as wood, glass, pottery, brass and woven baskets are very much part of the scene. Everywhere you look the equipment is clean, tidy and well maintained. This attention to detail is a fundamental part of Montessori philosophy and helps to keep the child in the centre of our thinking.
The staff may not be apparent at first; we are likely to be working quietly with a child or small group. When they come for the first time, every child is given a one to one "presentation" by members of staff, from these they gain an initial understanding of what is being taught. Each child then works alone to repeat, assimilate information and external ideas through exploration of the material. All the materials in the setting have been chosen directly because of the concepts that they clearly convey to the children; many are specific to Montessori environment. Activities range across a broad curriculum and gradually move from concrete hands on learning to abstract ideas and concepts. Ideas are developed one at a time at each child's own pace. A mixed age range forms a mini society with individual freedom under a framework of community rules. These rules include learning to clean up after yourself, respecting others rights and feelings (including the right to work quietly without being disturbed or interrupted), looking after others and the environment, and learning to do things safely. These are actively promoted along with positive language as part of the Montessori approach at all ages.