Dr. Maria Montessori and Her Method

The child is a worker and a producer. Although he cannot share in the work of adults, he has his own difficult and important task to perform - that of producing a man...

Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870. In 1896 she became Italy's first female Doctor of Medicine. She was a devoted scientist and insatiable learner. The fact that she was able to break gender barriers is an indication of the courage, perseverance and determination that characterized her life. Maria Montessori was a keen observer who, through her study of children as well as through extensive travels around the world, learned that certain phases of development are universal and continue throughout our lives. Children in particular manifest the clearest stages in their development.

Through her work in the fields of psychiatry, pediatrics and education, Maria Montessori developed an approach to education as a means of providing children with the kind of environment from which they would draw what is necessary for the development of they're fullest human potentials. She believed in the uniqueness of each child and in his potential as an architect of a better and more peaceful world.

She addressed the United Nations as a special speaker and guest to promulgate further understanding in human development and education. Considered one of the most predominant figures of the last century, her legacy remains with us to this day.

The Absorbent Mind

In the first six years of life, a child has a mind that functions very differently from that of an adult, appearing to absorb vast amounts of information effortlessly. Dr. Montessori illustrated the unique mental power of the young child, which enables him to construct and firmly establish within all the human potentiality, and she named this special ability "The Absorbent Mind." Here is a mind that has a special ability to constantly absorb impressions from the environment, without knowing that it is doing so, like a sponge. The child absorbs his environment so closely that it becomes a part of him. In this way, he accumulates the material from which he will later build up his conscious life, creating the "mental muscles" for what he finds in the world around him.

The Concept of the Prepared Environment

Throughout her writings, Dr. Montessori placed a great emphasis on the environments in which children live, learn and work. It is this that sets the Montessori philosophy apart from all other methods of education. Traditionally, the classroom is viewed as an area prepared to provide the teacher with elements of teaching and in which a child comes in to follow a routine and curriculum set up solely by the adult. In the Prepared Environment of the Montessori classroom, however, children are free to work and learn. The child engages happily in purposeful activities. Concentration, inner discipline and motivation develop naturally as the children discover and explore this carefully planned environment. Children work at their own pace, finding attractive activities which are appropriate for their different stages of development. They become problem solvers, leaders, and challenge seekers with a tremendous amount of self-esteem, self-discipline and love of learning. Children absorb from their environments everything that is part of their culture; they do this without getting tired or fatigued. Learning occurs most fundamentally as a result of interaction with the environment. The teacher is both part of this learning environment as will as the dynamic link between it and the learner. It is through the control and engineering of the physical properties of the educational setting that the Montessori teacher may have the greatest impact on the students. Her primary mission is to create a safe, beautiful and rich environment where children can learn to master and develop their natural skills.

The Sensitive Periods of Development

In her observation of children, Dr. Montessori noticed that as a child develops there are certain periods of time that appear to be the most favorable ones for creating and refining particular human characteristics. She called these special periods "Sensitive Periods," a term borrowed from a biologist. Today, the latest research tends to describe them as windows of opportunity. They are characterized by overpowering, interest and activity toward a particular sensibility. They may result in intense, prolonged activity and always serve toward development and adaptation. An excellent and extreme example is the Sensitive Period for language acquisition. During the first few years of life, learning to talk and understanding the talk of others can be intense and delightful work as well as a joyous adventure for infants and toddlers. Children will also pass through Sensitive Periods for order, movement, socialization, sensory perception and fine detail.