Who is Dr.Maria Montessori?

Dr. Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870. She was one of the first female physicians in Italy to have graduated from a medical school. In her medical practice, her clinical observations led her to analyze how children learn from their immediate environment.

During her stint at the “Children’s House”, she discovered that children absorbed knowledge almost effortlessly from their surroundings and showed continuous interest in manipulating materials. It was from these observations that the Montessori educational method and teaching materials were developed by Dr. Montessori.

What is Montessori Education?

The Montessori education is designed to support the natural development of children as they grow from childhood to adulthood. The time-tested principles, methods and materials used in the Montessori education are scientifically supported and researched.

Montessori education aims to allow each child to experience the joy of learning in a nurturing, non-competitive and cooperative environment where intellectual and social development is linked together. Montessori education is about understanding and aiding the child’s natural processes of growing and learning at their own pace. The child works individually or in a small group, building knowledge and skills in a learning environment that meets the natural needs of the child. This learning environment is specifically designed through observation of the free child.

Montessori education is an aid for life. It stresses on the independence and responsibility of a child. The education encourages a child to give their best in accomplishing his task.

The core of Montessori education is based on the teacher’s ability to observe the child and facilitate the child’s inner guide for self-directed growth. Children love to be engaged in self-directed, purposeful activities and learn best when involved in their self-chosen pursuits.

Montessori Principles

Montessori principles are used as guidelines to support each individual’s human tendencies and sensitivities at different stages of development.

The Montessori classroom is a prepared environment to meet the particular needs of the child. This prepared environment is designed by a teacher who understands the developmental needs of the child and guides the child towards finding his natural path of development. Observation is a fundamental skill of a Montessori teacher that guides the teacher into planning developmentally appropriate activities.

The following are the Montessori Principles:

The Planes of Development

On the path from birth to adulthood, the child passes through several distinct phases. Montessori termed the phases “The Four Planes of Development”. It divides each plane into a six-year cycle. The first plane of development occurs from birth to age 6.

Dr. Montessori believes each plane has different physical and psychological developmental needs. Once a plane has passed, it sensitivities to motivate development under optimal conditions also passes.

The environment in the Montessori classroom supports the child’s natural development by responding to the needs of the first plane, so that the child can achieve maximum growth into becoming a person of his time and place.

Absorbent Mind

The child at the First Plane of Development possesses a power of the Absorbent Mind. This special and unique power allows a child to take in sensory information and experiences around his environment effortlessly. For example, the child does not have to learn a language through a formal learning process but can acquire the language effortlessly in his culture and environment.

Montessori compared the Absorbent Mind to a camera. The camera takes in every detail regardless of good or bad. The Absorbent Mind for a child is universal and temporal. To take advantage of the power, the Montessori classroom prepares purposeful activities and materials to support the child’s development.

Sensitive Periods

Sensitive Periods are yet another universal human characteristic. The child in the first plane learns through unconscious absorption, concrete manipulation and sensorial exploration guided by the Sensitive Periods towards a certain aspect of development.

The Sensitive Periods are a phase of time when the child is particularly receptive and it arouses a strong spontaneous desire to learn and master skills and concepts.

Montessori identified four Sensitive Periods for the first plane. There are Sensitive Period for Order, Movement, Language and Development & Refinement of Sensory Perception. These Sensitive Periods overlap and support each other.

However, these Sensitive Periods may last for days, months, or years and stop just as suddenly as they begin. Therefore, a careful monitoring of the signs and traits is important to catch these windows of opportunity and provide an environment that stimulates development under optimal conditions.

Human Tendencies

From the moment a human being is born, he strives to orient himself to adapt into his culture by using his five senses to explore the things around him. He classifies and makes order of the information he experienced and is then able to use his abstracted mind to organize information. He naturally loves to be involved in work and movement that engages his body, mind and spirit. He strives to work diligently to reach perfection for his self-development.

These human traits are the human tendencies described by Dr. Montessori. These tendencies are inborn, universal and life-long. They guide the way humans naturally behave. It is important to understand the human tendencies as it forms the basic knowledge towards optimizing a child’s development.

Montessori Education vs. Conventional Education?

The table below shows the main differences between Montessori and conventional education.

What does a Montessori Classroom look like?

The moment you step into a Montessori classroom, you will see the differences:

  • Five fundamental areas of learning: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics and Cultural Extension.
  • Montessori embraces mixed age classrooms: 18-36 months, 2.5 to 6 years old.
  • Independent learning with observations by Montessori teachers.
  • Individualized lessons for each child.
  • Children may freely choose work from the lessons that have been presented.
  • Materials provide concrete experiences with a gradual move into abstract.
  • Materials are designed with built-in error control with little need for adult intervention.
  • Respect children and their natural ability and desire to learn.
  • Provides for the child’s intellectual, social, physical and emotional development.
  • The environment is specially designed for the child to function independently.
  • The role of the teacher is to observe and facilitate children’s needs.
  • Develops the child’s self-discipline, self-esteem and respect for themselves, others and their environment. Hence, it leads to concentration, independence and responsibility.