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Montessori teaching method

Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood

Volume 9 Number 2 2008

A Critical Enquiry into the Implementation of the Montessori Teaching Method as a First Step towards Inclusive Practice in Early Childhood Settings Specifically in Developing Countries


University of Southern Queensland, Australia

ABSTRACT The analysis was carried out as part of a master’s thesis and it aimed to analyse the extent to which the Montessori educational philosophy and teaching method incorporated inclusive educational qualities. The Montessori Method was first developed for children who were disadvantaged and considered ‘idiots’, in the slums of Italy’s San Lorenzo. With the usage of her didactic materials, Maria Montessori proved that the children in question were indeed educable given the correct type of instruction. The focus of this article is on the inclusive qualities embedded within the Montessori philosophy and teaching method, which can be reason enough for it to be adopted by developing countries that have limited budgets/funding for the purpose of special education. This method could prove to be an easy alternative for the immediate implementation of early childhood inclusive education for countries such as Malaysia which do not yet possess specific legislation governing special education.


In 1994, Malaysia was among the 92 countries that participated in the Framework for Action within the UNESCO Salamanca Statement (UNESCO, 1994). The commitment to ‘education for all within the regular education system’ was agreed upon. This article was written with this in mind and considers Malaysia’s commitment to the Salamanca Statement and the Ninth Malaysia Plan.

Seeing as there is a lack of suitable and appropriate legislation for the education of individuals with special educational needs in Malaysia, my research objectives were two-pronged: first to provide a framework so that policy makers could consider models of inclusion; and also the work aimed to contribute to educational research for the benefit of the early childhood special education community in Malaysia.

The basic assumption of this research study is that, instead of providing two systems – mainstream and special education – it is better to have one complete and efficient system which caters to a diverse body of learners (O’Shea et al, 1989). Here I emphasise early childhood education. In the long term, it will be more cost-effective to have one system catering to all students rather than separate provisions. Teacher training programmes need to be revised so that all teachers will be in a position to deal and cope with diverse student bodies within one educational system. This assumption is similar to that of the Regular Education Initiative (REI) which developed in the 1980s in the USA.


Montessori Teaching and Inclusive Practice

The research methodology for the study was qualitative. It made use of a critical analysis method, historical research, and action research based on grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). An in-depth study into the Montessori philosophy, teaching method and inclusive education theory was carried out in a systematic and orderly manner by the development of generative questions.

The findings of the research were that the Montessori method of instruction has many inclusive qualities. It was apparent that it could be used as a first step for developing countries such as Malaysia, which still lacks proper legislation for the education of individuals with special educational needs.

In the future it is planned that teachers will be trained to cater to the needs of all children within the given early childhood setting. Additional formal training in special education can also be incorporated into the teacher training programmes. It is also said that one system of education will be more cost-effective in the long term. This was stated in the Provision for Children with Special Educational Needs in the Asia Region (1994).

The Montessori method of instruction specifically emphasises teaching strategies for dealing with children who have learning difficulties. Auto-education is at the core of the method. In addition to that, teaching methods for delivering the curriculum known to be effective with children who have learning difficulties, such as direct instruction or explicit teaching, the mastery learning approach and the materials approach are used and carried out for all children, irrespective of capability and ability. Learning is, therefore, more specific and thorough for every child. Each lesson is presented in a specific order. Each piece of material was designed with a specific purpose in mind. For example, the exercises of practical life were designed to provide children with skills necessary to achieve independence. In addition, these materials also train hand–eye coordination, fine and gross motor control, task completion, and build on individual children’s concentration skills. A particular piece of material is introduced in sync with the child’s current level of learning, which Montessori referred to as sensitive periods. A sensitive period is a time when a child is most able to internalise a certain skill or subject area, thus maximising learning outcomes. Vygotsky (1962) referred to these same sensitive periods as the zone of proximal development. The teacher, now acting as a scaffold (Vygotsky) or guide (Montessori) would through careful observations of her students, be able to judge and provide learning materials to match a child’s current levels of learning and aid the child in achieving mastery of skills.

The ideal Montessori environment caters to children in a vertical age group which makes the delivery of a specific curriculum for a specific age unnecessary. Group learning takes place as a collective task but at different levels of understanding. This is definitely a more suitable way of teaching, giventhat all children develop at different levels as each individual is unique. Thus, the Montessori Method also recognises the individuality of all children as a norm. For example, if the teacher has planned to teach how to make a sandwich, an exercise of practical life for younger children, it could also serve as an introduction to mathematics. The younger children will be able to participate by helping to serve or arrange the sandwiches on a plate. The older children, depending on age, can help take and lay out the pieces of bread, help butter them, and the oldest of them can learn how to cut sandwiches into triangles and/or cut them into equal portions, mathematical concepts of division, fractions and shapes.

The essential difference between inclusion and the Montessori philosophy lies in the fact that the development of formal IEPs for a period of even one month is not adviced. This is because the child’s ‘inner guide’ may not be in sync with what the teacher has planned for the child. The ‘sensitive periods’ a child goes through emerge through guided play and may not follow the targets set out in the IEP.

Thus it is apparent that that the Montessori Method does indeed have overlapping concepts with inclusive practice. The fact that only one major difference was found makes this method probably the most suitable as a first step project in early childhood special education in Malaysia. It is a structured means of instruction which is not limited or confined for one range only. The vertical age grouping makes for an efficient learning environment. Peer tutoring between older and younger children will only enhance skills already learnt. Hands-on learning has been proven to be a useful tool in promoting effective learning in young children. Multisensory teaching approaches


Roshini Vettiveloo

have also withstood time and prove to be effective means of making learning enjoyable and effective.


There already exist Montessori training colleges in Malaysia and, thus, a large-scale project can be carried out in collaboration between the private and governmental organisations. The training of teachers in the first instance will be an immediate barrier to the implementation of this programme nationwide. There are budgetary considerations to take into account and development of partnerships, monitoring of quality and field supervision are also issues that policy makers need to thoroughly consider. Once all these issues can be sorted out and partnerships developed between the private and government sector, young children with special educational needs will reap the long-term benefits of such a project in Malaysia.

It is hoped that this study will provide impetus for carrying out more research into this area of the Montessori method of instruction as an inclusive tool. By the implementation of an early childhood inclusive curriculum (based on Montessori), in Malaysia, it is hoped that early childhood inclusion will pave the way for an immediate re-examination of the Malaysian educational system in order to incorporate a diverse body of learners and achieve full inclusion throughout the educational system.

Studies have shown that inclusion in mainstream education has many positive benefits for children with learning difficulties (Halvorsen & Sailor, 1990; Cole & Meyer, 1991; Hunt et al, 1994; McGregor & Vogelsberg, 1998). When children with special educational needs partake in social activities for fun, it helps them derive not only physical but also emotional benefits (Eastman & Saffran,1986). For instance, a group of children playing in the park learn to express themselves through active play, exercise and learn other social skills such as patience, give and take, taking turns, learning to comply with norms of games. Children will learn to embrace one another irrespective of ability without bias. Children with special needs learn to feel welcome and these interactions give them opportunities to apply what they have learnt in the classroom environment.

It could be concluded that with some minor adjustments, the Montessori method of education could be implemented as a first step towards inclusive educational practice in early years settings in Malaysia. Some minor adjustments that will be required, for instance, would be the incorporating of cultural elements in the curriculum. There will also be a need to organise space within normal schools for the building of these new, inclusive classrooms. Urban and rural classrooms will require elements from the two different environments to be incorporated into the classrooms. Parents will also need to be educated about this new method of instruction in an open classroom concept.

However, the practicality of its implementation could only be tested and verified through actual practice. Longitudinal studies will be needed to compare and contrast the effects of this method.


Prior to fully implementing the Montessori Method as part of the early years curriculum, it would be wise to first carry out pilot projects across the country in both rural and urban settings to see how the programmes need to be adapted depending on their location. Also, parental cooperation will need to be evaluated in the two settings. Most urban parents work, while in rural settings, often mothers still stay at home to look after their young. The Ministry of Education will need to be able to gauge parental response to such a new way of education. In addition to this, there may be areas of the curriculum that will need modifications and adaptations in order to meet the cultural needs of the multicultural Malaysian society.


Cole, D.A. & Meyer, L.H. (1991) Social Integration and Severe Disabilities: a longitudinal analysis of outcomes, Journal of Special Education, 25, 340-351.


Montessori Teaching and Inclusive Practice

Gardner H. (1983) Frames of Mind: the multiple intelligence theory, 10th edn. New York: Basic Books.

Eastman, M. & Safran, J. (1996) Activities to Develop Your Students’ Motor Skills, Teaching Exceptional Children, 19, 24-27.

Glasser, B. & Strauss, A. (1967) The Discovery of Grounded Theory. Chicago: Aldine

Halvorsen, A. & Sailor, W. (1990) Integration of Students with Severe and Profound Disabilities: a review of research, in R. Gaylord-Ross (Ed.) Issues and Research in Special Education, vol. 1, 110-172. New York: Teachers’ College Press.

Hunt, P., Farron-Davis, F., Beckstead, S., Curtis, D. & Goetz, L. (1994) Evaluating the Effects of Placement of Students with Severe Disabilities in General Education versus Special Education Classes, Journal of the Association of Persons with Severe Handicaps, 19, 200-214.

McGregor, G. & Vogelsberg, R.T. (1998) Inclusive Schooling Practices: pedagogical and research foundations. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Montessori, M (1964) The Montessori Method (New York: Schocken Books).

O’Shea, L.J., O’Shea, D.J. & Algozzine, B. (1989) The Regular Education Initiative in the US: what is its relevance to the integration movement in Australia? International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 36(1), 5-14.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (1994) Salamanca Statement on Principles, Policy and Practice in Special Needs Education. Paris: UNESCO.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1962) Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

ROSHINI VETTIVELOO is an education and learning therapist who runs a early intervention and learning support provision in Kuala Lumpur ,Malaysia. She writes widely in the local scene articles to promote awareness of issues surrounding learning dificulties and is also author of a book Learning Difficulties: guidebook 1 (ISBN 983-42501-0-X). She is currently pursuing her PhD in early intervention in reading within the Malaysian context. Correspondence: [email protected]


DMU Timestamp: July 18, 2022 19:48

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