“Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference.”
– Maria Montessori, “Education for a New World”
Dr. Montessori believed that children have within them everything they need to become highly functioning adults. She felt that the goal of education should not be to fill the child with facts from a pre-selected course of studies, but rather to cultivate the child’s own natural desire to learn.
In a Montessori classroom, the child’s desire to learn is supported by freedom of choice, repetition of lessons, and practice. The Montessori classroom materials fulfill these purposes, as well as give the child specific immediate information. Classroom use of Montessori materials is based on the child’s unique aptitude for learning at each developmental stage. Dr. Montessori identified the learning style of children through age 6 as the “absorbent mind” which she compared to a sponge in the way it absorbs information from the environment. The process is evident in the way a two-year-old learns 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 of their senses to investigate their interesting surroundings. One hundred years of experience have proved Montessori’s theory that a young child can learn to read, write and calculate in the same natural way that they learned to walk and talk.
Dr. Montessori also identified the learning style of the Elementary age child as “the reasoning mind.” At this time in life, children are interested in understanding the world they absorbed uncritically during their first six years. During the Elementary years, children are explorers and investigators who are interested first and foremost, in understanding reality. Their intellectual power is harnessed in understanding their world through research. Thus, with the support of teachers, parents, and each other, they learn everything they can about the world around them by engaging with it. And they use their imaginations to understand elements of the world that are far away in time, or space. This is the age for the Montessori Great Lessons, and for great work projects that test and temper the child’s imagination, ingenuity, and will.
During the years from 12 to 15, Adolescents undergo tremendous changes in both their brains and their bodies. At the same time, they are particularly sensitive to learning how to live in society. As Maria Montessori saw, Adolescence is a time of a great transition during which young people need guidance and even protection as they come to know and accept themselves and others. On every level, Adolescents benefit from learning by focusing on the whole first so that they can eventually understand the parts.
Maria Montessori’s ideas, developed some 100 years ago, are supported by current brain research, and by the theories of Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, Eric Erickson, and other developmental psychologists. Psychologist Benjamin Bloom, of the University of Chicago, wrote in Stability and Change in Human Characteristics “the environment will have maximum impact on a specific trait during that trait’s period of most rapid growth.”
Montessori philosophy sees each child as unique and precious, with magnificent individual potential. In a Montessori classroom, children work in a socially cooperative atmosphere to reach their academic potential. They learn through physical and sensory experience and are given freedom to discover, explore, and create in the prepared classroom. Each room is filled with constructive materials that meet the child’s developmental needs. As the child explores these materials over time, they move from concrete knowledge to abstract understanding. The Montessori trained director guides the child to explore new areas of learning at sensitive periods of individual development.
Starting at age three, Montessori classrooms group children across three-year age spans. Each child moves through periods of being the observer, the participant, and the teacher. Older children help younger children to learn, which reinforces their own knowledge. Younger children admire their older classmates and eagerly anticipate the day when they too will have enough knowledge to act as role models. A caring atmosphere promotes the development of responsibility, collaboration, and cooperation.
As a result of being respected and valued as an important part of their classroom community, children learn to value and respect themselves and one another. At the Montessori School of Lake Forest, children develop social responsibility through self-discipline and generosity. They are self-motivated and, in a sense, self-taught. As a result, they acquire deep self respect, and a deep love of learning that will remain with them all of their lives.
This wonderful video by Trevor Eissler helps to explain the difference between Montessori education and conventional education.