Play: The Montessori Method in Teaching and Learning

In some of our previous articles, we noted that the facilitation of learning is an act that can be cultivated by training, experience, and practice. If teaching adults is a difficult task, one should expect that teaching a preschool child will pose a greater problem since he may not understand the way adults understand.

Based on various observations about preschool child’s learning, certain theories, some of which have been discussed in the earlier units of this material have been propounded.

Most of these theories of teaching preschool children appear to have been inferred from the observations and methods put forward by Froebel and Montessori.

In this article, we shall examine what has come to be widely known today as the Montessori Approach.


Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952) was a medical doctor who became interested in mentally retarded children. Montessori was convinced that education, rather than physical or mental treatment was the remedy for their retardation. In 1906, she began working with children living in a slum area in Rome.

Inspired by the work of Itard and Seguin, (both French physicians who had worked with retarded children), Montessori developed her didactic materials. She used the materials with the retards and achieved remarkable results.

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Montessori reckoned that if her methods could achieve so much with retarded children, they should yield more spectacular results with normal children and, the results should be better than those achieved by standard methods of instruction.

She gave up her medical practice for traveling, lecturing, establishing schools and teacher training colleges, and conducting training courses. Montessori was convinced that children did not learn because of bad teaching methods.

She felt that methods should arouse and sustain the interest of children, allow them to work alone and experiment, and practice whatever they learn in school in their activities at home.

The next section gives a brief description of her teaching method.

The Montessori Method

Play: The Montessori Method in Teaching and Learning

1. The Prepared Environment

The prepared environment is an organized and coordinated set of materials and equipment, the use of which will promote significant learning in the child. The arrangement of the prepared environment reflects the child’s needs to order and attach meaning to his world.

By this, Montessori implies that the environment must be sealed both physically and conceptually to children’s needs and not the adults. For example, child-sized furniture and utensils are viewed as prerequisites for meaningful learning.

2. The Montessori House

The Montessori house has a set of rooms, and the central room is the place where children spend two hours a day for intellectual work. There is room for individual play or sleep, a “club-room” and a garden. The houses develop children’s skills for the care of self and property. These skills are instrumental to three primary components of the Montessori Method:

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  • Motor Education
  • Sensory Education
  • Education for Language

a. Motor Education

Maria Montessori regarded freedom of movement as the corner stone for motor education. All motor activities such as running, jumping and the like are functional for the child in managing his environment.

Therefore, basic motor acts such as walking; sitting and carrying objects are given precise attention. Scissors work, buttoning, lacing, pouring water from pitcher to basin etc are taught.

Also, occupational skills such as sweeping, brushing, taking care of teeth are taught. But while play activities pervade a Montessorian classroom, Montessori herself, did not consider fantasy play to have a place in children’s education.

All activities have their specific purposes and are geared towards building of self-discipline and a work-orientation. Gymnastic exercises and rhythmic movement exercises are provided to promote a sense of equilibrium.

Montessori believed that all learning have a sensory-motor base; the acquisition of knowledge rests upon the development and refinement of motor and perceptual skills. Motor activities are taught by précis demonstration.

Isolated verbal instructions are rare. A Montessori classroom depends heavily upon the learning that children engage in through observation and interaction with one another.

b) Sensory Education

Once a child has mastered the practical life exercises, he is considered ready for sensorial education. Sensory education is taught with materials designed to foster sensory discrimination skills and the concepts of form, size, colour, weight, temperature, and texture. An example of the material is the cylinder block.

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This material is designed to provide practice in sensory-motor coordination and establish control over the small finger muscles necessary for cursive writing.

Other materials, such as pink tower and colour tablets, promote the child’s ability to discriminate form and colour and aesthetic appreciation.

Touch boards are used to educate the tactile sense; thermic and aural education is provided by asking the children to feel various textured articles, and listening to sounds of cylinders.

Montessori had the lesson of silence which was to teach children silence and sharpen their sound perceptions. Other senses educated by means of didactic materials are the basic senses: the Olfactory and the sense of taste.

c) Language Education

Montessori believed firmly in the use of precise pronunciation by the children’s principal model: the teacher. She put forward the three-period sequence, applied to vocabulary development:

Period One – Naming – “This is a ball”
Period Two – Recognition – “(Give me) the ball” Period Three – Pronunciation – “What is this? Ball”

3. Academic Learning

All the pre-academic skills discussed above are supposed to be acquired by the child by the time he or she is four years old, ready to begin activities of the “essential culture”, writing, reading and arithmetic.

4. Writing and Reading

Activities such as form tracing, management of instruments of writing and using sand paper letters are engaged in by the children.

By using Montessorian alphabetical signs children learn and see the sand paper letters, feel their shape and hear their sound-words are constructed with letters and the child tries to sound the letters while reading them together.

In effect, this represents a simple method of reading and word construction as opposed to word methods found in many conventional schools. The Montessorian method teaches writing and reading together.

5. Arithmetic

Interest in many of the sensorial materials is concerned with concept basic to Mathematics learning: quantity, identity, and difference. A formal introduction to numbers comes with the presentation of red and blue rods, a set based on the decimal system.

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Greater level of complexity follows the rod-exercise, including exercises which teach the meaning of zero, odd-even numbers and the decimal system. The counting-tray, cards and counters, number-boards and an ingenious device known as the Golden Bead material are used for teaching counting, sorting and seriation.

The Golden Beads are used for teaching numbers, fractions, and the processes of squaring and cubing. Once the child has mastered all these, he goes on to exercises in Botany and Geography. The child has now completed his preparatory programme, and is ready to encounter higher levels of cultural experience.

In conclusion, although her methods and techniques were formulated many decades ago, Maria Montessori still remains today the single best source for practical ways in which to stimulate the mental development of preschool children.

Montessori method is based on the conviction that children’s learning could be enhanced by activity-based teaching methods.

The prepared environment is an organized and co-ordinated set of materials and equipment.

The primary components of Montessori Method are: Motor Education, Sensory Education and Education for language.

Activities of the “essential culture” begin for the child after he has acquired all the pre academic skills.

Read Also: Planning the Learning Environment

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