Montessori is a revolutionary method of observing and supporting the natural development of children. Montessori educational practice helps children develop creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and time-management skills, to contribute to society and the environment, and to become fulfilled persons in their particular time and place on Earth. The basis of Montessori practice in the classroom is mixed age group (3 ages - 6 ages in one class), individual choice of research and work, and uninterrupted concentration. Group lessons are seldom found in a Montessori classroom, but learning abounds. As you read through these pages you will discover the unique practices that make Montessori the fastest growing and most successful method of education today. - The International Montessori Index, www.montessori.edu
The Purpose of Montessori Education
Dr. Maria Montessori believed that no human being is educated by another person.· She must do it herself or it will never be done.· A truly educated individual continues learning long after the hours and years she spends in the classroom because she is motivated from within by a natural curiosity and love for knowledge.· Dr. Montessori felt, therefore, that the goal of early childhood education should not be to fill the child with facts from a pre-selected course of studies, but rather·to cultivate her own natural desire to learn.
In the Montessori classroom, this objective is approached in two ways: first, by allowing each child to experience the excitement of learning by her own choice rather than by being forced; and second, by helping her to perfect all her natural tools for learning, so that her ability will be at a maximum in future learning situations. The Montessori materials have this dual long-range purpose in addition to their immediate purpose of giving specific information to the child.
How the Children Learn
The use of the materials is based on the young child's unique aptitude for learning which Dr. Montessori identified as the "absorbent·mind."· In her writings, she frequently compared the young mind to a sponge.· It literally·absorbs information from the environment.· The·process is particularly evident in the way in which a two year-old learns his native language, without formal instruction and without the conscious, tedious effort which an adult must make to master a foreign tongue.· Acquiring information in this way is a natural and delightful activity for the young child who employs all his senses to investigate his interesting surroundings.
Since the child retains this ability to learn by absorbing until he is almost seven years old, Dr. Montessori reasoned that his experience could be enriched by a classroom where he could handle materials which would demonstrate basic educational information to him. Over eighty years of experience have proved her theory that a young child can learn to read, write and calculate in the same natural way that he learns to walk and talk. In a Montessori classroom, the equipment invites him to do this at his own periods of interest and readiness.
Dr. Montessori always emphasized that the hand is the chief teacher of the child. In order to learn, there must be concentration, and the best way a child can concentrate is by fixing his attention on some task he is performing with his hands. (The adult habit of doodling is a remnant of this practice.) All the equipment in an Montessori classroom allows the child to reinforce his casual impressions by inviting him to use his hands for learning.
The Importance of the Early Years
In The Absorbent Mind, Dr. Montessori wrote, "The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six. For that is the time when man's intelligence itself, his greatest implement is being formed. But not only his intelligence; the full totality of his psychic powers...At no other age has the child greater need of intelligent help, and any obstacle that impedes his creative work will lessen the chance he has of achieving perfection."
Modern psychological studies based on controlled research have confirmed these theories of Dr. Montessori. After analyzing thousands of such studies, Dr. Benjamin S. Bloom of the University of Chicago, wrote in Stability and Change in Human Characteristics, "From conception to age 4, the individual develops 50% of his mature intelligence; from ages 4 to 8 he develops another 30%...This would suffest the very rapid growth of intelligence in the early years and the possible great influence of the early environment on this development."
Like Dr. Montessori, Dr. Bloom believes "that the environment will have maximum impact on a specific trait during that trait's period of most rapid growth." As an extreme example, a starvation diet would not affect the height of an eighteen year-old, but could severely retard the growth of a one year-old baby. Since eighty percent of the child's mental development takes place before he is eight years old, the importance of favorable conditions during these years can hardly be over emphasized.
*Taken from A Parent's Guide to the Montessori Classroom by Aline D. Wolf