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Montessori is an alternative learning system for children that was first taught by Maria Montessori in 1907. Nowadays Montessori childcare principles are taught in an estimated 22,000 educational institutions worldwide.

Montessori Philosophy

What is Montessori, I hear you ask? Montessori has many facets, but in a nutshell it can be described as "guided independence". Children are encouraged to develop initiative, and follow their natural abilities. There are many differences between Montessori and traditional, mainstream learning principles - I will outline several major differences below:

- The Teacher doesn't lead the class

Children are not instructed in the way that a traditional classroom operates, with a teacher leading the students. The Montessori philosophy might argue that the child forms a dependence on the adult for their learning. Rather the teacher is not the main focus of attention in the room.

Children don't look to the teacher for instruction. Sure, teachers guide the child and correct along the way. But independent learning on the part of the child is one of the major principles. To this end, self-control on the part of the child is encouraged from an early age.

- Purpose Designed Learning Materials

The Montessori philosophy has many proven tools which are beneficial to children's development and learning. These Montessori learning materials include many physical tools such as the Sandpaper Letters alphabet game, building blocks, and the Puzzle Map of world parts.

There are also other interesting ones such as dressing frames which teach children to use buttons, zips and how to put a jacket on when very young. Another interesting aid is the Practical Life Equipment such as brushes, mops and dusters which the children can use to gain real life skills from an early age. All tools are designed with childrens learning in mind and have been refined and improved over the decades.  These materials provide practical real world learning to children.

- Large blocks of time for each child to immerse themselves in activities they choose

Using Montessori Learning aids, pre school children are introduced to new tools and they are encouraged to take control and experience them for themselves. Children are also free and have long blocks of time to immerse themselves in whatever they tend to like doing. In fact, a large part of a child's day at a Montessori centre is spent of self-directed learning and discovery.

This method allows the child's mind to really focus and natural abilities tend to come out. Part of the Montessori way is that during these periods of intense focus, children spontaneously begin to develop and evolve their learning.

- Mixed age classes

Each day, students do maths and language tasks. Classes have older and younger students interacting in the same environment. This allows children to interact with other children if they choose and combined social and learning skills occur naturally. Often the older children will help they younger to learn. A strong emphasis is that the children are allowed to interact with others as long as they don't disturb the room or others concentration.

Montessori Schools

Montessori is an alternative child care and learning system, usually taught in privately owned school and centres. Montessori is generally not seen in the public system. Montessori has traditionally been focused at kindergarten age children, undertaking early childhood education. Montessori is also now taught at primary school, and even high school level throughout the world.

Montessori schools are independently run under the umbrella of the Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand. There are approximately 90 Montessori childcare centres in New Zealand. To see a list of Montessori preschools please go to the Montessori NZ website: http://www.montessori.org.nz/school-search