Children between the ages of three and six can pick up knowledge and understanding effortlessly, spontaneously and joyfully. Dr. Montessori called the child’s mind at this stage “absorbent” and discovered that during these years there are sensitive periods when the child shows an unusual ability to acquire particular skills compared to any other time in his life.
Classroom environments in Montessori education are prepared by scaling to a child’s size and gearing to his or her inner needs, allowing the child to learn by his or her own choice and at his or her own pace. Believing that children are best able to comprehend their environment in very concrete, hands-on ways and through immediate personal contact, Dr. Montessori designed materials to lead the child toward the ability to work in abstractions in numbers, letters and ideas. These materials are meant only as a means to an end and are to be relied upon less as the child becomes increasingly more able to work with abstractions. Feeling that there is an important correlation between muscular activity and learning, Montessori incorporated movement into the use of the equipment, which includes error-control factors that the child can understand without having to be told.
The teacher serves as an enthusiastic guide in the child’s progress from simple to complex, rudimentary to refined, outer to self-control. Next to learning from one’s own experience, the child learns best from other children. Therefore, children are grouped in three-year age groups to give children a series of models for imitation and older children the opportunity to reinforce their own knowledge by helping younger children. Competition has no place in Montessori education until after the child has gained confidence in his or her own abilities.
Dr. Montessori’s research indicated that children have fantastic powers of concentration if properly stimulated, far exceeding that of most adults. Children would rather work than play when given a choice between toys and stimulating work. Montessori educators have a responsibility to train children’s characters to achieve self-discipline and self-direction which result from the mastery of firsthand experience and fulfillment of the inner urge to expand and grow in one’s own way. This growth is achieved without jeopardizing the rights of others to have this same privilege.
While these are some of the basic Montessori principles, explanation alone cannot describe what must be seen to be understood. Dr. Montessori’s insights into the inner needs and workings of children led to her respect for their initiative and ability and her expectation that they will naturally do what is right without being forced, resulting from direct observation of children in actual classroom situations. Through observation of a Montessori class in action, one can understand the secret of her success.
“Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.”
“The secret of good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination.”
“A new education from birth onwards must be built up. Education must be reconstructed and based on the law of nature and not on the preconceived notion of adult society.”