Dr. Montessori 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 age 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.”
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 scientific observations of the way a child develops naturally and are then applied in an educational system consistent with the principles of natural learning.
Dr. Montessori believed that no human being is educated by another person. People teach themselves. A truly educated individual continues learning long after the hours and years spent in a classroom because he or she 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 children with facts from a pre–selected course of studies, but rather to cultivate their own natural desire to learn. Her experiments made children the center of education; her program was adapted to the interests and needs of 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 in work, and honest and helpful with one another.
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. She called these phases of growth “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.
The function of the teacher in a Montessori classroom differs considerably from that of the traditional teacher; hence, Dr. Montessori used the term “Directress.” The directress brings children into contact with the world in which they live and the tools by which they learn to cope with the world.
The directress is, first of all, a very keen observer of the individual interests and needs of children; her daily plan proceeds from her observations rather than from a prepared Programs. She demonstrates the correct use of materials as they are chosen by the children. She carefully watches their progress and keeps a record of their work.
The directress prepares the environment, directs the activities, and offers each child enticement and stimulation to ensure that the children’s total development as well as their progress toward self–discipline occurs. The mutual respect of the student and the teacher–guide is the most important factor in this process.
Working in groups, teachers ensure flexibility with individual lessons and promote individual progress, stimulating each child. 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 of each of the children. The most satisfying choice can usually be made only by the children themselves. The Montessori classroom offers children the opportunity to choose from a wide variety of materials at different levels of ability. The child can grow as their interests lead them from one level of complexity to another.
They work in a group composed of individuals of various ages, abilities, cultures and interests. This permits the younger children a graded series of models for imitation, and the older ones an opportunity to reinforce their own knowledge by helping the younger ones. Hence, each child adds to the group as they receive from it what they need.
“To be able by experiments to choose objects that will interest and hold the attention of the child is to know the means of aiding it in its mental development.
“This scientific direction presupposes an active personality, reflective and associative, whose activity manifests itself through a series of reactions derived from systematic stimuli chosen by experiments.
“Nothing is more interesting than these experiments. By them we can establish, with the greatest precision, all necessary exterior stimuli definite in their qualities and quantity.
“From such a system there comes forth a school where the children work for themselves—that is, they are free. In fact, the scientific laboratories of experimental pedagogy cannot be other than the school itself.”
from M. Montessori, “My System of Education”
It is imperative that before children are given “freedom” to choose that there be a respect for the structure, discipline, and boundaries that must be in place. The class is like a “little society” affording children freedom of both movement and speech. With freedom comes the inherent discipline and respect for others that must be honoured.