The Purpose of Montessori Education
Dr. Maria Montessori believed that no human being is educated by another person. They must do it themselves or it will never be done. A truly educated individual continues learning long after the hours and years they spend in the classroom because they are motivated from within by a natural curiosity and love for knowledge. Dr. Montessori felt, therefore, that the goal of an early childhood education should not be to fill the child with facts from a pre-selected course of studies, but rather to cultivate their own natural desire to learn.
In the Montessori classroom, the objective is approached in two ways, first by allowing each child to experience the excitement of learning by their own choice rather than by being forced, and second by helping them to perfect all their natural tools for learning so that their ability will be at a maximum in future learning situations. The Montessori materials have this dual, long-range purpose in addition to their immediate purpose of giving specific information to the child.
How Children Learn
The use of the materials is based on the young child’s unique aptitude for learning that Dr. Montessori identified as the “absorbent mind”. In her writings she frequently compared the young mind to a sponge as it literally absorbs information from the environment. The process is particularly evident in the way in which a two year-old learns his native 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 his senses to investigate his interesting surroundings.
Since the child retains this ability to learn by absorbing until he is almost seven years old, Dr. Montessori reasoned that their experience could be enriched in a classroom where they could handle materials that introduce basic educational information. Over 100 years of experience have proven her theory that a child can learn to write and calculate in the same natural way that they learn to walk and talk. In a Montessori classroom, the equipment invites them to do this during their own periods of interest and readiness.
Dr. Montessori always emphasized that the hand is the chief teacher of the child. In order to learn, there must be concentration, and the best way a child can concentrate is by fixing his attention on the same task he is performing with his hands (the adult habit of doodling is a remnant of this practice). All the equipment in a Montessori classroom allows the child to reinforce their casual impressions by inviting them to use their hands for actual learning.
The Importance of the Early Years
In The Absorbent Mind, Dr. Montessori 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 greater need of intelligent help and any obstacle that impedes his creative work will lessen the chance he has of achieving perfection”.
Modern psychological studies based on controlled research have confirmed these theories of Dr. Montessori. After analyzing thousands of such studies, Dr. Benjamin S. Bloom of the University of Chicago wrote in Stability and Change in Human Characteristics. “From the age of 4 the individual develops 50% of his mature intelligence: from ages 4 to 8 he develops another 30%… This would suggest the very rapid growth of intelligence in the early years and the possible great influence of the early environment on this development.”
Like Dr. Montessori, Dr. Bloom believes that “the environment will have maximum impact on a specific trait during that trait’s period of most rapid growth.” As an extreme example, a starvation diet would not affect the height of an eighteen year-old but could severely retard the growth of a one year-old baby. Since eighty percent of the child’s mental development takes place before he is eight years old, the importance of the favorable conditions during these years can hardly be overemphasized.
At What Ages?
Although the entrance age varies in individual schools, a child can usually enter a Montessori classroom between the ages of two and one half and four depending on where they can be happy and comfortable in a classroom situation. they will begin with the simplest exercises based on activities that all children enjoy. The equipment that they use at three and four will help them to develop the concentration, coordination, and working habits necessary for the more advanced exercises they will perform at around five and six. The entire program of learning is purposefully structured. Therefore optimum results cannot be expected either for a child who misses the early years of a cycle or for one who is withdrawn before they finish the basic materials.
Parents should understand that a Montessori school is neither a babysitting service nor a play school that prepares a child for traditional kindergarten. Rather, it is a unique cycle of learning designed to take advantage of a child’s sensitive years between three and six when they can absorb information from an enriched environment. A child who acquires the basic skills of reading and arithmetic in this natural way has the advantage of beginning their education without drudgery, boredom, or discouragement. By pursuing their individual interest in a Montessori classroom, they gain an early enthusiasm for learning, which is the key to their becoming a truly educated person.
“The child can only develop fully by means of experience in his environment. We call such experience ‘work’”. Maria Montessori – The Absorbent Mind
Another observation of Dr. Montessori’s which has been reinforced by modern research is the importance of the sensitive periods for early learning. These are periods of intense fascination for learning a particular skill, such as going up and down the steps, putting things in order, counting or reading. It is easier for a child to learn a particular skill during the corresponding sensitive period than at any other time in his life. The Montessori classroom takes advantage of this fact by allowing the child freedom to select individual activities that correspond to their own periods of interest.
Discover more about the Montessori Method by calling us at 215-843-0780.