Science is, above all things, about the observation of natural phenomena. Babies and children are natural scientists - everything is new, so everything is interesting. Infants, in particular, are primed to constantly absorb and process information around them unlike any other animal on the planet.
Getting children interested in science can be as simple and engaging as taking them on a hike in the woods. There are so many things moving and growing, and so many sights, sounds, and smells. Total immersion in nature is both interesting and delightful to young minds.
The Montessori Method focuses on child-driven discovery and education, and teaching science within Montessori is no exception. Despite the pervasive myth that Montessori is bad at teaching science, the truth couldn’t be more opposite. By starting children early in scientific pursuits, Montessori methodology encourages them to explore the world through their senses and to categorize, group and sort things in much the same way that scientists do. In this way, the Montessori method sets them up for a lifetime of interest in and understanding of the natural world.
Teaching Science: Traditional vs Montessori Methods
For people raised in the Traditional method of education, you probably remember stock phrases like “the mighty mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell”. This is because Traditional teaching is primarily focused on learning through repetition, with a set schedule to learning science (or anything, really). Traditional education seeks to ensure children are hitting milestones arbitrarily set for their grade, and all children are taught using the same methods, timeline and curriculum.
Is there science in Montessori?
With the Montessori method of teaching science, children are allowed to first familiarize themselves with the world around them. Simply allowing a child to sit and be with flowers and grass, feeling the breeze, watching birds, and holding insects will pique their curiosity about the world around them. Labels and expanded learning occur naturally as the child ages and enters critical periods for language and more complex thought.
As the child absorbs sensory information, they will begin to relate it to the creatures, plants, and weather around them. They will see that a ball on an incline rolls, but the idea of physics isn’t something to be concerned with yet.
The primary difference between these two models is the structure - Montessori will establish some parameters and direction with the materials the child interacts with, but values the child's interests and a multi-sensory approach to learning, while NOT overtly pushing a formal structure or timeline. Traditional methods of education rely heavily on structure, repetition, and a specific pathway to learning science that is cookie-cutter and rarely (if ever) based on interest.
Learning Science with the Montessori Method
Because Montessori is child-driven, we start science learning as early as possible. As we said before, infants and young children are information sponges and will soak up anything they are exposed to. Their natural curiosity and tendency to drink in information from around them is one of the many reasons why nature walks are important to Montessori teaching. Children will see, feel, hear, and smell all manner of new things as they move through the environment, and this is enough when they are very young.
Infancy through 3 years old
Your child will constantly draw in whatever sensory information is around them, and will learn to understand certain patterns like day-to-night as they age. They will see cause/effect relationships in the world around them, and observe plants and animals as you take them out in nature. Use passive toys with natural imagery, such as blocks or wooden puzzles, that draw their attention. Rooting their play in the real world is critical to getting them to associate with tangible concepts.
As they age, these early experiences will cause them to ask questions, and you should be willing to answer on a level that they will understand. This method of instruction gives them time to process the information they ask for, rather than bombarding them with adjacent facts.
During this time, your child will have grouped information in a way that makes sense to them and teaches them how different natural concepts interact with each other. You should focus at first on strengthening their observation; what animals, plants, and insects do we see in spring, summer, fall, and winter?
As they age and gain control of language, then you can start helping them label more effectively. Teach them the natural flow of seasons, days, weeks, and years. Pattern recognition, the difference between two-dimensional and three-dimensional shapes, and how shapes naturally occur are also developing in this age range. You’ll find the scientific method of testing hypotheses comes naturally to a child, as does the love of grouping items and concepts together. Use proper scientific terminology such as "hypothesis" with your preschooler and encourage their natural proclivity toward sorting, grouping and organizing.
You’ll notice a progression of their interaction with science and how they express themselves regarding their new knowledge. They will begin to compare attributes (sizes of leaves), describe groups of items (different trees have different leaves), and observe casual relationships in nature (fall causes leaves to drop). This increasingly complex observation will become more apparent as your child ages and gains the language necessary to express their curiosity and what they’ve learned.
Multisori Science Curriculum
Here at Multisori, we offer a Montessori Science curriculum specifically built for this 3-6 year age range, often referred to as the Montessori primary curriculum. Similar to the rest of the M3 by Multsori’s Montessori curriculum, this homeschool science curriculum piques a child’s interest with simple hands-on projects and keeps learning science fun. Of course, M3 by Multisori science follows the standard Montessori scope and sequence.
After children have an understanding of nature and how it is presented around them, they will begin to look deeper. This is the time when causal relationships are explored more deeply, and how systems are built upon other systems. For instance, you might work with them on ecosystems and how plants and animals relate and react to each other. This is a time when you can introduce information about cells, and how they work to build our bodies. Further exploration of the difference between plant and animal cells may lead to thorough investigation of photosynthesis, the circulatory system and more.
Your child may have questions about the origin of the universe, or about stars, or concepts that are far deeper than the surface level observations of their younger years. You can help them both to encourage their interest and to help them understand with Montessori's Great Lessons. Naturally, you will also create experiments that allow them to delve deeper into their own understanding of the world around them. From volcanoes to deep ocean exploration, the lower elementary science curriculum is rich and enticing.
Before you observed animals, bugs, plants, and rocks, but now you can explore more critical and focused concepts related to various natural phenomena. If your child has a love of rocks, work on geology and the rock cycle with them, or if they’re entranced by bugs, entomology might be a good fit. This is an age where intense interests might develop in a specific area, and you should encourage their pursuit of these topics. Many lower elementary classrooms incorporate project based learning. You can do this in your Montessori science homeschool curriculum as well.
Montessori is strong in science by being science-based
Maria Montessori established her methods by approaching all learning in a scientific, observational way. This is one reason her style of teaching is erroneously considered science-weak: because it’s typically not delineated from the rest of education. The fact is that all of the methods used in the Montessori style encourage your child to be a natural scientist.
Children crave information and learning, especially at a young age. They naturally group concepts and seek to understand the things around them as much as possible. More than anything, teaching science through natural, intentional observation of the world as early as possible leads to development of critical thinkers.
By not separating the concepts of science from other learning, the interconnectedness of education is a core value of the Montessori Method. Observation, experimentation, and a willingness to try different approaches to learning are critically important to creating confident and passionate students.
So, if you’re concerned that Montessori is weak on science, don’t be; Montessori is science, through and through.