A Montessori education can best be described as learner-centered and an integrative holistic approach. Montessori expressed four planes of development, each are completely different and, hence, structures curriculum according to the developmental needs of the child. The four planes of development include infancy (0-6 years of age), childhood (6-12 years of age), adolescence (12-18 years of age) and Maturity (18-24 years of age). Montessori believed young children had an absorbent mind and went through sensitive periods (optimal times for learning). A vast majority of Montessori schools attend to the early childhood experience. However, over the decades Montessori has expanded into the elementary years of childhood. The first two planes of development in relation to the Montessori method and its’ application is of utmost interest.
At the first plane of development (0 months-3 years of age) and primary (ages 3-6) children are spontaneous in their learning and are naturally curious about the world in which they live, so employing a learner-centered organization is appropriate. According to Feeney et al. (2010, p. 356), a learner-centered organization is appropriate in early childhood classrooms and is the best way to plan for infants, toddlers, and young preschoolers. The Montessori method at the first plane is built around the concept of the Absorbent Mind, giving children a chance to build on their interests and learning of lifelong skills and it is especially manifested in children under the age of 6.
At the second plane of development (6-12 years of age) the period of the absorbent mind is behind him – that period which allows the child to learn without the use of the will, absorbing all that comes to him. The principles that can be applied usefully to the first period are not the same as those that must be applied to the second (Montessori, 1948, p.20). Now he must draw on his will and intention to learn about his environment through an holistic integrative approach. The focus is on “why” and “how”. The second-plane child seeks intellectual independence. “Let me do it myself” becomes “Let me find out for myself” (Hall, 2011, p.17). In Montessori’s book To Educate the Human Potential, she refers to the child’s mind as a fertile field, ready to receive what will germinate into culture. Reason and imagination are the keys to unlock learning during this phase. They are academically and practically prepared to pursue self-education in many areas; to make responsible decisions and act on them in a responsible way; to recognize limits and give, ask for, and receive help as needed. An elementary child is not just interested in himself and those around him but now he wants to explore society and the world, to learn what is right and wrong, and to explore meaningful roles in society. The child of this age wants to know everything therefore, an integrative curriculum is utilized. An integrative curriculum fosters a lifelong love of learning, as well as a sense of confidence, independence, and compassion. Montessori believed that the teacher should be a generalist, rather than an expert in a single area of the curriculum (Lillard, 2005, p. 146). Lillard goes on to state that a generalist provides interconnections that might inspire fuller learning than having each area taught as a discrete topic would, and another consideration is that children might become more resourceful and independent with a single generalist teacher because they go outside for expertise (Lillard, 2005, p. 147).
The Montessori elementary curriculum is comprehensive, integrative, holistic, and purposeful. Physical growth and other domains of development grow rapidly during the elementary phase of a child’s life. It is at that time in a child’s life that our approach begins to take a more integrative holistic approach. Montessori relays that as educators we are to “sow the seeds of the sciences” (1948, p. 56). She states that all things are interconnected in the universe and each living thing has a specific role or Cosmic task to carry out. In an elementary classroom, children actively manipulate concrete materials across the curriculum: writing, reading, math, history, geography, botany, zoology, biology, chemistry, physics, religion and the arts and use them in more abstract ways. According to Feeney, et al. (2010, p. 357), an integrative study of a topic contributes simultaneously to children’s growing awareness, skill, and understanding in many areas. Using their imagination, abstract reasoning, and questioning mind, they start to learn newer concepts (www.global montessorinetwork.org, Cosmic Education).
Characteristically, Montessori takes the children from the whole to the parts and back to the whole again. In this way, each academic area emerges naturally from the whole narrative and continually refers back to it. Cosmic education in its holistic integrative approach expresses the intimate relationship between things, living nature, and man. The cosmic great lessons include: The Coming of the Universe and the Earth, The Coming of Life, Coming of Human Beings, Communication in Signs, and The Story of Number. The epic cosmic stories as told through the teacher’s expressive delivery, music, impressionistic charts, experiments, and games exposes a child’s imagination, creative processes, and higher-level thinking. The Great Lessons present a holistic vision of knowledge, drawing on material from the various disciplines as needed.
Children are encouraged to work together to complete research, plan and execute projects, and share them with their peers. Students collaborate, teach one another and exercise conflict resolution. Children who complete the Montessori elementary curriculum have a clear understanding of the natural world, of human knowledge, and of themselves. These children are prepared to leave childhood behind and to enter adolescence as independent, confident, responsible, emotionally intelligent individuals, balanced in physical, intellectual and social achievements. They are academically and practically prepared to pursue self-education in many areas; to make responsible decisions and act on them in a responsible way; to recognize limits and give, ask for, and receive help, as needed.
In sum, both the learner-centered and integrative holistic curriculum models work well in combination. Feeney et al (2010, p. 357), supports a combination of the two types of organization of curriculum based upon the age of the child. Feeney states (2010, p. 357), since the learner-centered curriculum is limited by what children bring to the educational experience, it may not be sufficient to provide intellectual challenge and stimulation as children get older. As a child matures, it is wise to continue with integrative organization since young children learn best and understand when information is presented in a more holistic ways, involving the senses, mind and body together. A combination of learner-centered and integrative holistic approaches, depending upon the plane of development, best describes an authentic Montessori program. If we can achieve an individual’s desire to learn, through a rich and rewarding learner-centered integrative holistic approach that fostering intrinsic motivation, we will have unlocked the secret to self-learning!
Feeney, S., Moravcik, E. Nolte, S. Christensen, D. (2010). Who am I in the lives of children? Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.
Hall, Gretchen (2011). How science fits into the whole Montessori curriculum. The NAMTSA Journal, Vol. 36, No. 1, Winter 2011.
Lillard, A. (2005) Montessori the science behind the genius. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Montessori, M. (2005) To education the human potential. Chennai, India: Kalakshetra Press.
Montessori, M. ( 2007) The absorbent mind. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company.
Montessori, M. (2008) From childhood to adolescence. Chennai, India: Kalakshetra Press.
www.global montessorinetwork.org, Cosmic Education.
“My vision or the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that certification from the secondary school to the university, but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their own activity, through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual.”