Dr. Maria Montessori (1870 -1952) communicated a message and a method that transformed early childhood education the world over. This approach is based on Montessori’s keen observation of children’s nature and their developmental needs. Although revolutionary 100 years ago, free choice of purposeful activity and uninhibited movement in education have been validated today by cutting edge research. Dr. Montessori, physician, philosopher and anthropologist, discovered how to prepare an environment and train the teachers to meet the needs of children at each stage of their development. Dr. Montessori’s description of her method is simply “help to life.”
“Education is a natural process carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words, but by experiences in the environment.” – Maria Montessori
Basic Montessori Principles
The Absorbent Mind
The mind of the child up to the age of seven is absorbent in nature. Everything in the child’s environment and experience is assimilated into the personality and character of the child. The Montessori prepared environment is filled with interesting and inviting lessons that are also beautiful and pleasing to the young child. Everything is scaled to their size and is designed to be appealing to them while providing ample opportunity for refined movement. The children are the caretakers of their environment and are comforted by its order and beauty.
Between the ages of three and six, children are in the developmental sensitive period for language (vocabulary, writing and reading), good manners, order, and sensorial refinement. At this time the child learns effortlessly and joyously. After age six, the absorbent mind diminishes as rational and abstract thinking begins to emerge. The Montessori prepared environment and trained Montessori teacher work together to provide your child what is needed and when it is needed.
Liberty in Education
Freedom in the Montessori classroom means freedom to do what is right. Guided by the Montessori teacher, the children create a miniature but very real community where they learn to honor a few carefully chosen, well-understood and strictly enforced ground rules. The classroom behavioral standards (basic ground rules) are: 1. respect for the environment and the other people in it; 2. knowledge before choice, i.e. the child needs to be shown a lesson before it is freely chosen; and 3. return the material to its “home” before choosing something else. Fruits of this freedom include self-discipline, concentration, obedience, individuality, and positive social interactions.
The Montessori Individual Work Period
The individual work period is the heart of Montessori education for young children. It is the time children are receiving new lessons and practicing ones they already know. They are free to work with any materials they have been previously shown by a teacher. They sometimes work alone and sometimes choose to work together with a classmate. Early in the year, this work period may last only an hour. As the children become increasingly capable and self-disciplined, the work period lengthens to two or three hours.
The wide variety of materials and purposeful activities in the Montessori classroom are the teaching tools that the children use in their task of constructing the adult of the future. The Montessori teacher provides the dynamic link between the child and the prepared environment.
In this interaction with the materials, children become more self-reliant and self-disciplined. With the practical life lessons, the children develop coordination and control of movement, learn practical skills, learn sequencing, logic, and problem solving skills and build a basis for real self esteem that is based on satisfaction with their individual achievements. With the sensorial materials, they use their five senses to experience and experiment with isolated qualities of objects, such as size, shape, color, texture, and tone. These scientifically designed materials assist them to form concepts—make brain connections—which are the foundation for intellectual development. They explore language through verbal and written communication. And they discover math as a special language that uses numbers to describe quantities, qualities, and form. Added to this is social development that arises from children of different ages and abilities freely interacting, assisting, and learning from each other.
The individual work period is a most precious opportunity for young children to discover and follow their interests in learning and refining skills. Montessori’s great discovery is that children are motivated to work and learn on their own, free of unnecessary adult interference. Our work is to prepare an environment that suits their stage of development and to provide guidance that supports their physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development.