‘Education is not what the teacher gives, education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment.’ – Dr. Maria Montessori
As inspiration for the Montessori Elementary Schoolhouse in Aruba, we can turn to the wisdom of Dr. Montessori. Dr. Maria Montessori offered wonderful guidance for those working with children and in particular in education. She spoke all over the world answering questions and training other adults to do this important work. It is said that she declined many invitations to speak as she said that she could not spend her life just talking, she had work to do. The most profound advice of Dr. Montessori tells us to ‘follow the child’ and to observe the children in order to understand their needs and to know how to meet those needs.
A great foundation for learning is laid in the first, formative years from 0-6 years of age, after which the child emerges as a new type of learner. Elementary children have a great capacity for academic learning and social development and therefore the capacity to develop a great love of learning. This can best be supported by providing the children with an environment conducive to collaborative and exploratory work. Dr. Maria Montessori recognized this in her observations and, along with her son Mario Montessori, they developed a didactic method which plays into the great capacity for learning of the Elementary children.
Dr. Montessori and Mario Montessori developed materials and an organizational framework of teaching the core ‘subject areas’ of elementary education in an interdisciplinary way – the natural way. The children have questions and they are encouraged and required to find answers to those burning questions. Along the way they encounter and internalize the foundations of our physical universe and the workings of our human societies. They are provided with a specialized environment and given the freedom, along with the related responsibilities, that allows the children to understand what it means to belong to society, to learn what that society is made up of and where its roots are. The study of all disciplines intertwined is the playground of the Elementary child.
The foundations of the Montessori method, whether for the 0-6 child or the 6-12 child are the provision of freedom to the child for self-directed work; an uninterrupted three-hour work period within which to do this work, classmates of a three-year age range (0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12); and solid tactile materials from which a deep understanding of academic processes can be internalized. In the elementary classroom, the children progress from the use of the hands-on beautiful materials, after they acquire a deep understanding of the work, to abstract thinking and abstract work – for example calculating mentally, rather than with the abacus, or writing problems on paper.
When given the opportunity to soak up the knowledge in all the subject areas in this hands-on and collaborative way, the children maintain the love of learning that is their nature to develop. Through exploration, and strategic guided lessons from the teacher, and the freedom to work in groups and in a project-based way, the children gain not only knowledge, but confidence in their ability to gain knowledge. True learning comes from knowing that you can know and learn anything! As Socrates put it: ‘Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel’.