Montessori philosophy provides guidance on both physical and mental changes in children’s development. Each stage encompasses six years occurring roughly between ages 0-6, 6-12, 12-18 and Montessori theory recognizes them as a continuum. The period from birth to six years is “referred to as the Absorbent Mind”. The period is specific with tremendous transformation and extraordinary growth. “Spiritual embryo” sub-stage continues during the first three years and is led by the needed care and the unconscious interactions with the environment. The “social embryo” sub-stage covers the period from three to six years when the child masters the acquired insights and opens his mind to social interactions.
The innate power for that natural self-development, which is linked to a human evolution, is known as a ‘hormic’ impulse” and represents an innate child’s energy that drives him to seek certain stimuli with great intensity. In Montessori philosophy, the human tendencies are the key for understanding how and why a Montessori classroom calls out to the very soul of the child. These are: Orientation, Order, Exploration, Communication, Activity, Manipulation, Work, Repetition, Exactness, and Perfection.
Sensitive phases are periods of time in which the child possesses increased sensitivity and perceptiveness in a certain area - movement, senses, language, order, small things. Children are drawn toward the activities and materials that will satisfy their current interest or need. It is up to the teacher to recognize this and introduce concepts for which the child is naturally curious and developmentally ready. Learning is effortless when correct materials are presented during their aligned sensitive period.
This request, addressed to Maria Montessori by a child, became the primary creed of her learning method. In Montessori education, the role of adults is to help children develop their innate curiosity to gain new knowledge and skills relating to the world around them. The teacher serves as a guide to bridge the child from one skill to another, offering the least amount of help needed and supporting the child toward independent actions.
Children interact with their surroundings, and are stimulated by them. It is the child who is best qualified to decide exactly how and when to integrate stimuli into his actions. When considering the different learning styles of each child, this holistic approach considers the needs of the individual as they construct their personality.
The child uses his hands to create, discover, and exert control over the surroundings. A child learns by touching, feeling and manipulating everything. A child’s hands explore, gather information, and also imitate the motions of adult hands. Hand work is the foundation for understanding their material world and its connections, and supports the development of thinking and speech.
In the Montessori environment, children themselves choose what they will do, with whom they will work, and for how long they will work. This freedom of choice, however, comes with the responsibility of showing respect for oneself, for others, and for their environment. This sort of freedom also develops self-control and inner discipline within the child. During this independent work time, children get to know not only their possibilities, but also naturally occurring limitations – i.e. the current limits of their skills and intellect, the limits of objects, the limits of time, and limits set by ground rules, parents and teachers.
The teacher arranges the Montessori materials in a precise sequence on the shelf and considers all aspects of a child’s learning in this process. The environment is prepared, not only physically, but emotionally, socially and otherwise to support the child's independence and curiosity. The materials and lessons given are meant to introduce new concepts for which the child may explore and develop intellectually. Children in a Montessori classroom have direct interaction with their environment and the teacher makes adaptations to ensure it remains safe and stimulating. The social preparation includes options for working alone or in small groups. The teacher invites children for lessons, and remains flexible when a child is not interested or ready. The teacher’s expertise is shown in accommodating all learning styles when preparing the environment.
Concentration occurs naturally when a child’s needs are being met. Concentration or absorption, occurs during periods when a child is connected to a meaningful activity on a level of individual interest. The child innately feels calm, is motivated to use reason, and can respond to the material in a variety of ways. In this ‘zone’, a child can sometimes become unaware of his/her surroundings, as they are engrossed in the present moment of learning. It is important to respect this time as it is the foundation of learning.
In Montessori education, the curriculum is divided into the following areas: Activities of everyday living, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics, Cosmic education (Biology, Geography, History, Science), Creativity. Each area includes many materials and lessons, given in a logical sequence, with focus to the child’s individual development. The lessons are given with direct goals, using materials designed for each specific purpose to create a connection which flows between each area. Special points of interest, controls of error and direct aims are built into each lesson for maximum benefit.