Many schools and teachers from around the world follow the “Montessori Method,” an ‘auto-education’ method conceptualized by Maria Montessori for young children, primarily from the ages of three to six (although, in more recent years, the Method has been expanded in some places to accommodate older children as well as adults). The Method focuses on “the pupil’s liberty as the basis for developing independence, his freedom to work when and for as long as he wants to on a given task and to progress at his own pace. Children work in groups and individually to discover and explore knowledge of the world and to develop their maximum potential.
Maria Montessori realised how the educational system was failing during her time and decided to come up with the Montessori educational system which believed that children should be helped in constructing their character. From her findings, she realized that children love work, freedom of choice, they love silence, are spontaneous to discipline, and they also shouldn’t be bullied. She related that when a child born as a physical embryo needs to survive on his/her own, the child will need both internal and external aids to help develop his/her brain.
The prepared environment for a child to develop must be conducive and interactive. Unless the child is exposed to this environment, he might not be able to express himself and develop according to the laws of natural development. The child must experience freedom of movement, freedom of exploration, freedom to interact socially, and freedom from interference from others; this freedom ultimately leads to a greater freedom: freedom of choice. She also talked about structure and order in a Montessori classroom as a unit of the universe where the child begins to internalize the order surrounding him, thus making sense of the world in which he lives. Children between the ages 1-3 years tend to start making connections and draw conclusions of what is really happening around them.
As kids develop, they begin to play in groups. The purpose of the Montessori environment is to develop the whole personality of the child, not merely his intellect. By guiding the child through the five areas of the Montessori curriculum (Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics, and Cultural subjects), the child has the structure which is at the forefront of the creative work in a Montessori classroom.
The internal aids are divided into two; the absorbent mind and sensitive periods. The absorbent mind (0-3years) allows the child adapt to his or her own group while the sensitive period of order(1-2years) gives the child not only the key to understanding the nature of things but the power to self-construct and develop his personality. Dr. Montessori observed that a child that misses these sensitive years will lack confidence and the ability to be orderly, organized and independent. At the sensitive period of learning through the 5 senses (2-5yrs), a child begins to develop his/her senses. There is also the sensitive period to coordinate movement (21/2-4yrs) where the overall physical development of the child is encouraged through activities such as carrying a chair, sweeping etc. Room should be given for the child to move around and work with his hands too. The Sensitivity to the social aspect of life (21/2-5yrs) is also key as Dr. Itard discovered while working with the feral child (wolf child) who was found in the forest after several years. He observed that without social interactions, a child’s mental ability is impaired. Interactions with his peers and adults show him to care more for others and have respect for people and nature. A child lacking this sensitive period becomes anti-social and unfriendly.
Finally is the Sensitive period to Language (0-6yrs) where there is a reinforcement of the belief that the child really does have a predetermined pattern of psychic unfolding. Just by absorbing sounds and spoken words from his environment, a child develops his vocabulary and explodes into the language commonly spoken in his environment without being taught.
When you understand and encourage a child during his/her sensitive period through the setting up of a prepared environment with freedom, it gives room for the natural development of the child according to its laws.
The 8 laws of natural development which include the law of work, law of independence, development of will, power of concentration, development of creativity and imagination, development of intelligence, development of emotional and spiritual life and the stages of growth are some of the attributes a child has to adopt to be normalized which is the ultimate aim of the Montessori education. The prepared environment encourages work through the child’s activities with the materials as the child is truly him/herself when he is immersed at work. The work here is not an adult’s work- adults work for the outcome, children work for the process.
The Montessori environment also helps in achieving the law of independence by allowing the child freedom to choose his task in his environment though with limits mainly to ensure the safety of the child. A child requires this independence to thrive in the society where things will not be done for him and naturally his energy and drive is aimed towards becoming functionally independent. He is also able to take decisions and make good judgments without necessarily needing anyone’s approval.
Also, there is the power of attention which starts to manifest at a certain age. The child now starts to direct their attention to particular objects in their environment with a new intensity and interest. At first, this interest will be attracted to such things like bright colors, but with some experience the child learns to direct their attention to the already familiar and from there to the novelty. Developing will is a function of decision plus action. The inner formation of the will is a long process which develops slowly through active work with the environment and through adaption to the limits of a chosen task. The development of Intelligence is also a law of natural development deeply promoted in the Montessori environment. According to Montessori, intelligence is the sum of all those reflexes and mental activities that cause the mind to construct itself in relation with the environment. The child starts by making discriminations through the senses of impressions in his environment.
Montessori also believed awareness of the stages of growth which a child passes through as essential to his natural development also as the right environment to stimulate optimum exploration of his senses at each stage is put in place. All these was what prompted Dr. Montessori to come up with her educational system so she can understand a child with the findings from her observations which all sums up to being that the child must have a very strong motivation towards his own self-construction.