"Child-centered learning" has become a popular catch phrase over the last few years, but what does it really mean and how does it fit in with Montessori education? Simply put, child-centered learning means educating with the child's best interest in mind - your focus as an educator is not only on the child's development, but also on figuring out HOW the child learns.
Where traditional schooling relies on a teacher teaching a class as a whole, and teaching in a way that makes sense to the adult, child-centered learning and Montessori education relies on the child to teach the adult how to best develop their skills in a way that is suited to the child's natural way of learning. In a Montessori environment directresses are guided by each child's individual needs and interests. The curriculum is set, but when and how each activity is presented depends entirely on the developmental stage of the child and which teaching method will work best for that individual child. The goal of child-centered learning is to allow the child to become independent, responsible, and confident within themselves.
Maria Montessori explains this perfectly, "Scientific observation then has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment."
Child-centered learning is just that. It is trusting the child's natural ability to learn within his/her environment when given the appropriate tools to succeed at mastering various skills, excelling academically, and reaching personal developmental milestones.
A Montessori environment is set up in a way that supports the natural learning processes of children - it is not designed with the adult in mind. For example, in a Nursery classroom the tables and chairs are child-size and all activities are at eye-level for the child. As the child gets older, the environment becomes more and more geared towards supporting their independence and sense of responsibility.
"The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences."
- Maria Montessori
As the adult is guided by the child, the child can be gently guided by the adult. Child-centered learning is all about seeing learning through the eyes of a child. It is about empathy, connection, and bringing out the best in each learner in the most effective way possible.