The Montessori Method

The educational goals of Dr. Montessori foster independence, self-control, positive self-concept, fine and gross motor control, language development, academic skills, and social and emotional development.

"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." ~ Maria Montessori

The Purpose of Montessori Education

Dr. Maria Montessori believed that no human being is educated by another person. He must do it himself or it will never be done, A truly educated individual continues learning long after the hours and years he spends in the classroom because he 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 his own natural desire to learn.

In the Montessori classroom this objective is first approached in two ways: first, by his own choice rather than by being forced; and second, by helping him to perfect all his natural tools for learning, so that his ability will be at a maximum in future learning situation. The Montessori materials have this dual long-range purpose in addition to their immediate purpose of giving specific information to the child.

"Free the child's potential, and you will transform him into the world." -Maria Montessori

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 learned 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 which would demonstrate basic educational information to him. Over sixty 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 a Montessori classroom allows the child to reinforce his casual impressions by inviting him to use his lands for learning.

"We cannot create observers by saying "observe," but by giving them the power and the means for this observation and these means are procured through education of the senses." -Maria Montessori

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 an intelligent help, and any obstacle that impedes his creative work will lessen the chance he has of achieving perfection."

Recent 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; form ages 4-8 he develops another 30%....This would suggest 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 18-year-old, but could severely retard the growth of a one year-old baby. Since 80% of child's mental development takes place before his is 8 years old, the importance of favorable conditions during these years can hardly be over emphasized.

Dr. Maria Montessori opened her first Children's House (Casa dei Bambini) in a low income area of Rome in 1907. Dr. Montessori respected the child as an individual.

Her educational system makes use of the developmental changes and sensitive periods of each child to allow him/her to reach his/her full potential.

The child's learning is primarily from voluntary work with carefully prepared learning materials.

Sensitive Periods

Another observation of Dr. Montessori's which has been reinforced by modern research, is the importance of the sensitive periods for early learning.

These are periods of intense fascination for learning a particular characteristic or skill, such as going up and down steps, putting things in order, counting, or reading.

It is easier for the child to learn a particular skill during the corresponding sensitive period than at any other time in his life.

The Montessori classroom takes advantage of this fact by allowing the child freedom to select individual activities which correspond to his periods of interest.

At What Ages?

Although the entrance age varies in individual schools, a Montessori classroom between the ages of one and one and a half and four, depending on when he can be happy and comfortable in a classroom situation.

He will begin with the simplest exercises based on activities which all children enjoy. The equipment which he uses at three and four will help him to develop the concentration, coordination and working habits necessary for the more advanced exercises he will perform at five and six.

The entire program of learning is purposefully structured. Therefore, optimum results cannot be expected either for a child who misses the early years of the cycle, or for one who is withdrawn before he finished the basic materials described here.

Parents should understand that a Montessori school is neither a baby-sitting service nor a playschool that prepares a child for traditional kindergarten. Rather, it is a unique cycle of learning designed to take advantage of the child's sensitive years between three and six, when he can absorb information from an enriched environment.

A child who acquires the basic skills or reading and arithmetic in this natural way has the advantage of the beginning his education without drudgery, boredom or discouragement. By perusing his individual interest in Montessori classroom, he gains and early enthusiasm for learning, which is the key to him becoming a truly educated person.