Ocean View is run according to the educational philosophy of Maria Montessori. As a medical doctor, she began her teaching career in 1907, working with physically and mentally handicapped children. Her success in educating these pupils was so remarkable that it led her to question conventional methods of education for normal children, which she felt, restricted them from achieving their full potential.
For this reason, Montessori believed that children should be fully stimulated from birth to six years in order to prepare the path for all later learning.
Maria Montessori named the phase of the child’s life from birth to three, ‘The Spiritual Embryonic Phase’. She used this term to describe the process of development in which the new-born comes into the world and emerges into an individual. This is when the young child needs a very positive and nurturing environment, so the toddler group needs to provide a home away from home.
‘The Social Embryonic Phase’ from 3 – 6 years is when the child enters the pre-school. The child is now ready for a wider range of friendships and is more content to be away from home. Learning is more structured and language develops rapidly as the child absorbs everything like a sponge – s/he has an ‘absorbent mind’. The importance of early education cannot be underestimated and the Montessori Method achieves this through a dynamic relationship between the child, the teacher and the learning environment. This continues throughout all subsequent phases of education and is still very evident in the primary phase.
Although considered revolutionary at the time, recent findings in developmental psychology and neuroscience have confirmed the value of Montessori education, giving momentum to an increasing awareness amongst parents and teachers. Past pupils of Montessori Schools are independent, motivated and confident and this has certainly been our experience at Ocean View since 1993.
The Montessori Child
Montessori had a very clear and fresh vision of the child and what was needed to allow for full and healthy development. Her original findings are now supported by research. it is very clear that a Montessori education really works the brain, not just by filling it with knowledge, but in helping to manage knowledge and actions effectively. Neuroscientists now understand the function of the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC) in the human brain and describe it as a person’s ‘Chief Executive Officer,’ controlling what is done, and when. A well-developed PFC allows an individual to concentrate, plan, predict, monitor, adjust and persist. These vital skills and abilities are now often referred to as ‘Executive Functions’. The Montessori Method promotes the development of such functions, originally referred to as the ‘normalisation’ of the child. According to Montessori, the attributes of the normalised child should include: the ability to concentrate, a love of work, self discipline and positive social behaviour.
The Montessori Teacher
The 2 year Diploma-level training involves modules on child development, observation, child health and safety, educational theories, contemporary issues and diversity in education and the full Montessori curriculum. More than this, being a Montessori teacher is a way of life: the teacher embraces the role with humility and integrity and is ever ready to give her best to each individual child and their family. The teacher presents exercises to the child on an individual and small group basis, working from simple to complex, at the child’s pace. Careful record keeping and planning by the teacher ensures that progress is tracked. Teachers in the primary phase also hold degrees.
The Montessori Environment and Teaching Materials
Based on her observations of how children learn, Montessori understood that a new type of learning environment was needed. This environment should promote freedom of choice and movement. Structure is given by a clear set of consistently enforced ‘ground rules’ that ensure the safety and well-being of all. The learning environment is beautiful and inspired by nature; it is, as Montessori described, a ‘Children’s House’. There are quiet places to read; areas to learn and work with friends or alone; areas to create, to play, to eat and relax both indoors and outdoors. Each curriculum area has its own, specialised Montessori teaching materials, which are child-sized, real and functional. All exercises are activity-based and the child learns to solve problems through discovery with concrete experiences. Additional materials and resources are developed to support topic work. The curriculum content develops through the three phases of toddler, pre-school and junior primary.
Our classroom ground rules provide a positive framework for discipline. ‘Walking carefully, talking softly, taking care of the equipment, being kind to others and remembering to share,’ are taught through example and positive and consistent reinforcement. A calm and supportive learning environment results. If a child has difficulty in following these rules, a positive solution is sought.