The importance of the early years
Dr. Maria Montessori, one of the most important educators of our time, emphasized the need for early education. She 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 a greater need of intelligent help, and any obstacle that impedes his creative work will lessen the chance he has of achieving perfection.”
The real needs of the child
Montessori attitudes and philosophy are most consistent with the needs of a child in the process of developing and learning. Montessori’s educational theories are based on the way a child develops naturally and then correlated for use as an educational system consistent with these laws.
Dr. 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 a classroom because he is motivated from within by a natural curiosity and love for knowledge. She felt, therefore, that the goal of early 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. Her experiments made the child the center of education; her program is adapted to the interests and the needs of the children. As a result, children concentrate with enthusiasm and achieve a real and profound understanding of their work. This intellectual progress is accompanied by emotional growth. The children become harmonious in movement, independent of work, and honest and helpful with one another.
Phases of growth
Dr. Montessori discovered, and recent educational research has verified, successive phases of growth in children each with characteristic sensitivities which guide physical and mental development. These phases of growth, she called “sensitive periods”. They are outwardly recognizable by an intense interest which the child shows for certain sensorial and abstract experiences. Dr. Montessori discovered that the guiding sensitivities constitute needs in the child which demand fulfillment and are universal to all children. Thus, the validity of Dr. Montessori’s observation has remained constant since she began her task of the discovery of the child.
The teacher’s role
The function of the teacher in a Montessori classroom differs considerably from that of the traditional teacher; hence, Dr. Montessori used the term “director/directress”. The directress brings the child into contact with the world in which he lives and the tools by which he learns to cope with his world. He/she is, first of all a very keen observer of the individual interests and needs of each child, the daily plan proceeds from the observation rather than from a prepared curriculum. The correct use of materials is demonstrated, as they are individually chosen by the children. The directress carefully watches the progress of each child and keeps a record of his work. The individual child’s total development as well as his progress toward self-discipline is carefully guided by the directress who prepares the environment, directs the activities, and offers the child enticement and stimulation. The mutual respect of the student and the teacher-guide is the most important factor in this process.
The un-graded classroom
The greatest possibility for flexibility in permitting individual lessons and progress, while still retaining group sessions at no expense to the individual child, exists in the Montessori environment. The use of individual materials permits a varied pace that accommodates many levels of ability in the classroom. If the classroom equipment is to be challenging enough to provoke a learning response, it must be properly matched to the sensitivities and past experiences of the child. This experience is so varied that the most satisfying choice can usually be made only by the child himself. The Montessori classroom offers him the opportunity to choose from a wide variety of graded materials. The child can grow as his interests lead him from one level of complexity to another. He works in a group composed of individuals of various ages, abilities, cultures and interests and is not required to follow anyone else’s program…it permits the younger children a graded series of materials for imitation and the older ones an opportunity to reinforce their own knowledge by helping the younger ones. Hence, he adds to the group as he receives from it what he needs.