The Montessori Method
Montessori early childhood education is about maximizing a child’s natural ability to choose and perfect tools for learning, rather than filling them with pre-selected facts and coursework.
“Our aim is not only to make the child understand, and still less to force him to memorize, but so to touch his imagination as to enthuse him to his innermost core.”
– Dr. Maria Montessori
A Montessori school is neither a baby-sitting service nor a play school. Montessori is a unique cycle of learning that is designed to take advantage of the child’s sensitive periods.
The Sensitive Periods
Sensitive periods are transitory periods when children are sensitive to particular stimulus in their environment.
During each sensitive period, it is incredibly simple for a child to learn particular concepts. These concepts will be more challenging to learn once the period has passed. Therefore, it is important that children are provided with appropriate activities to correspond with the development of the child.
Sensitivity towards something only lasts until the child’s need is fulfilled, and all sensitive periods are connected in that each provides a foundation for the next.
Sensitive period for…
Order (2 to 4 years)
Need for definite and precise environment.
Movement (birth to 5 years)
Need for free interaction in environment through physical activity.
Language (birth to 6 years)
Absorbs the human language spoken around him/her.
Writing and reading (3½ to 5 ½ years)
Connected with his/her special sensitivity to language.
Refining of the senses (2½ to 6 years)
It is imperative that the training of the senses begin in these formative years to prevent defects in future life.
Music (2 to 6 years)
Receptive to musical notes.
The Formative Years
“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.”
– Dr. Maria Montessori
During the first six years, thought processes develop from concrete to abstract. The person that the child will become is strongly based on the impressions and information they absorb.
Birth to Age 3
The child contains an “unconscious absorbent mind”: the brain absorbs and stores absolutely everything.
The development of language is a perfect illustration of its influence. Babies are surrounded by a multitude of noises and sounds, but the human voice is the one sound that they are most sensitive and attracted to.
“Sounds of human speech make on him a deeper impression than any other sounds. These impressions must be so strong, and cause such an intensity of emotion – so deep an enthusiasm as to set in motion invisible fibers of his body, fibers which start vibrating in the effort to reproduce those sounds.”
– Dr. Maria Montessori
Age 3 to Age 6
The child develops a “conscious absorbent mind”: he/she has control over what he/she absorbs, begins to understand meaning, and categorizes information.
The Montessori environment is structured in a way that helps children categorize everything. Learning materials help isolate certain things – for example, red rods isolate length; brown stairs isolate width.
The Montessori Teacher
The Montessori Teacher, known as the directress, is quite different than the traditional teacher. In the classroom, there is no teacher’s desk as a focal point – learning stimulation comes from the entire environment, and the directress is the main link between them.
The directress is a keen observer of the individual needs and interests of each child. Daily work is produced based off of these observations, rather than from a prepared curriculum.
She is trained in Montessori methodology and theory and can recognize periods of readiness. She may have to direct a child choosing to work beyond their capability or to encourage a child that is uncertain. She avoids correcting mistakes and allows opportunity to discover error through self-correcting materials.
The word “discipline” takes on a new meaning at Montessori. Discipline is not an external factor of teacher controlling child, but rather another word for self-control and self-motivation. This cannot be achieved through scolding and reprimands. Instead, the Montessori environment expands the inner discipline that all children have.
Self-discipline does not happen in a day. But by combining discipline with the freedom to explore, and by providing a stimulating environment and materials that encourage interest and concentration, children begin to internalize rules and feel responsible for their actions.
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