Choosing schools: Montessori

Montessori schools are based on the teaching of Maria Montessori (1870-1952), an Italian doctor.

This system of education is based on the child's developmental need for freedom, within limits, in a carefully prepared environment that guarantees exposure to didactic (intended to teach) material and experiences, aimed at developing their intelligence and their physical and psychological abilities.

Children of mixed age groups and mixed abilities work together through a series of three-year cycles: three to six years of age, six to nine years, nine to 12 years and 12 to 15 years. The teacher's role is that of a facilitator rather than the traditional "authority" figure.

Su Cunningham, programme director of Headstart Mercy Montessori in Cape Town, explains that children in Montessori classes learn at their own pace and according to their own choice of activities from many different possibilities.

"Learning therefore becomes an exciting process of discovery, which leads to concentration, motivation, selfdiscipline and a love of learning.

"We show children that they are capable. We teach the children the skills they need before we ask them to do anything complicated, so the child never feels threatened. They always go from the known into the unknown."

What to bear in mind

There are very few Montessori primary and high schools in South Africa, although there are many Montessori preschools.

This means that children who attend a Montessori preschool are likely to attend a more mainstream primary school, which may cause problems. However, many of the skills which Montessori encourages, such as self-motivation, work very well in an Outcomes Based Education (OBE) environment.
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