How did it begin?
Early in the twentieth century, Dr. Maria Montessori, Italy’s first woman physician, developed educational philosophy, materials and methods based on her scientific observations of young children’s behavior.
Dr. Maria Montessori believed that children learn best by working in a home like setting, filled with developmentally appropriate materials that provide experiences contributing to the growth of self-motivated, independent learners.
Montessori observed that the best learning occurs in multi-age classrooms where children at various stages of development learn from and with each other. Her ‘developmentally appropriate’ approach was designed to fit each child instead of making ‘each child fit the program’.
Montessori recognizes the importance of the Early Years
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”. Research has established the critical importance of first 6 years of life for the child’s physical, emotional, social and cognitive development. There is very rapid growth of intelligence in early years than at any later period of life. A child acquires his/her self-image and personality patters by the age of 6. So, at no other age does the child have a greater need of an intelligent help, and any obstacle that impedes his/her creative work will lesson the chance he/she has of achieving perfection.
Dr. Maria Montessori felt 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 his/her own natural desire to learn.
Dr. Maria Montessori’s philosophy is based on her dynamic theories including such revolutionary premises such as:
- Children are to be respected as individuals who are different from one another
- Children create themselves through purposeful activity
- The most important years for learning are from birth to age of six
- Children possess unusual sensitivity and mental powers for absorbing and learning from their well prepared environment which includes adults as well as materials
In Montessori education, use of the materials is based on young children’s aptitude for learning, which Dr. Maria Montessori identified as ‘Absorbent Mind.’ A child’s mind absorbs information from the environment. This is evident, when a two year old child learns his native language with no formal instructions. Montessori Method appreciates that acquiring knowledge and learning is a natural and delightful activity for young children, who employ all of their senses to investigate and explore their surroundings.
Another important child-centred feature in the Montessori Method is the application of the ‘sensitive period’ for early learning. Dr. Montessori identified that during ‘sensitive periods,’ a child’s mind is intensely fascinated in learning a new skill. The Montessori Method has proven that a young child can learn to read, write and calculate during the sensitive periods, in a similar natural manner as a child learns to walk and speak.
A Montessori classroom takes advantage of these facts and allows the child the freedom to explore and to select individual activities which correspond to his/her own period of interest.
Key elements of the Montessori Method
There are 4 primary elements in Montessori Method. These are:
- Auto-Education using Didactic Materials
- Individualized Education
- A prepared Environment
- The Directress
1. Auto-Education using Didactic Materials
“No human being is educated by anyone else. He/she must do it him/herself,” said Dr Maria Montessori. Young children possess unusual sensitivity and mental powers for observing, absorbing and learning from the environment. They have a deep love and need for constructing themselves. The Montessori environment allows children the freedom in a carefully prepared environment, which guarantees exposure to materials and activities through which they accomplish the most important task – the development of themselves.
2. Individualized Education
Dr. Montessori realized that children are different from each other and therefore, they need the freedom for their individuality to grow. This individuality is respected and safeguarded. The directress takes her cues from the child, providing appropriate challenges when the child is ready, so that he/she meets success
3. A Prepared Environment
Dr. Montessori was uniquely creative in this area. She believed that the setting in which learning was to take place was equally as important as the child and the directress (teacher). In a Montessori classroom there is a sense of structure and order. Order in the environment helps the child do things without needing an adult’s assistance. Everything has a permanent place. Children move about as they select their work from the shelves, they work with the materials and then they return the materials to the shelves.
There is a quiet yet busy atmosphere. Children are totally involved in their work, either observing or working with materials on the floor or on tables, sometimes alone, sometimes in small groups.
4. The Directress
The directress (Montessori teacher) is the vital link between the child and the prepared environment. She directs the child’s activity to the child’s inner need. She is a perceiver of the child’s needs and the preparer of the environment and is a programmer with materials and lessons. The directress must be prepared internally (spiritually) and externally (methodologically) to keep alive the children’s enthusiasm for learning, she needs to be flexible and have an open mind. She should have an eye of a scientist, to observe children and the patience of a saint.