Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was an Italian physician and educator. Through her observations she discovered that when young children are free to concentrate, engage and investigate purposeful activity, natural learning occurs. Right from birth children are naturally open to and vividly aware of the world, taking in impressions through all their senses. Through these senses and experiences they absorb knowledge effortlessly. Montessori referred to this as the “absorbent mind’. She also identified developmental stages through the child’s early years when all their energies are focused on the development of a new skill, be it language, the need for order, fascination in tiny objects, gross or fine motor development and so on. These she referred to as ‘sensitive periods’.
Montessori education provides experiences and opportunities for the child’s sensitive periods and absorbent mind to be fostered through a specially prepared environment. Children are free to explore, experiment and question in an active manner. They are able to move about the classroom making their own choices of activities that draw their interest, and work with them uninterrupted for as long as they wish. Through this work they develop concentration, perseverance, control of their movements, self discipline and the ability to work with and alongside others. Social interaction and the development of a class community is very much a part of the Montessori philosophy. Children are encouraged to consider the school as ‘their school’ and are given tasks of responsibility appropriate to their age and ability within the classroom.
The role of the teacher is that of an observer and guide, identifying children’s unique learning styles, capabilities and interests through observation and interaction, and then providing them with opportunities to engage and extend their interests. As a result of being heard and acknowledged, Montessori children develop confidence and become self-directed which leads to motivation.