Developed by Italian educator and doctor Maria Montessori, the Montessori model of education is based on respect for a child's natural psychological development. It's estimated that there are more than 20,000 Montessori schools worldwide, with students ranging from infant age to eighteen years of age. A Montessori education emphasizes a child's social development as much as his or her academic development, and it aims to help a child build independence and practical skills within a supportive framework which respects each student's individual growth rates. Students are looked at as whole individuals: the physical and the emotional are as important as their cognitive development.
Montessori schools for infants and toddlers have the primary focus of providing opportunities for children to develop motor skills, independence, and a love of learning. Teachers engage students with materials that are size and age-appropriate. The Montessori approach at this age also aims to develop toileting skills. Parents often participate with their youngsters in "parent-tot" classes at which the parent can help guide their child through a variety of age-appropriate activities.
As children grow into the preschool and kindergarten years (ages two and a half to six), the Montessori model engages them in activities which help them develop independence in a variety of practical pursuits. Mixed age classrooms allow children to help and learn from one another. Teachers provide manipulatives such as spoons and cups which help students develop confidence and practical skills. Students move freely and are often given the choice to engage in the activity which interests them most, allowing them to build a sense of freedom and personal empowerment. A focus on the development of the senses is also evident in a Montessori preschool classroom, as is engagement in art, music and language activities. Students' differences are respected and celebrated.
As students approach the elementary and middle school years (ages six to twelve), the Montessori curriculum is integrated to emphasize connections across all subject areas. Language, history, science, math, and the arts are all studied in hands-on, interconnected, project-oriented ways. Students learn through hands-on experiences and are actively engaged in investigation and research; they are not vessels to be "filled" with information. Students direct their own explorations, further emphasizing the development of their independence. Students also take learning outside of the classroom (sometimes referred to "going out" in Montessori) to engage in real-world investigations which build on what they learn in the classroom environment. The result is a confident, independent learner who is ready to succeed in high school and beyond.
Research on the Montessori model has shown that graduates of Montessori schools are prepared well for later life in an academic sense as well as socially and emotionally. Graduates score well on standardized tests and often receive above average rankings on criteria such as attentive listening, showing responsibility, and critical thinking. They are able to adapt to new situations and show a love and enthusiasm for learning.