In her research, Dr. Montessori noted the specific characteristics associated with the child’s interests and abilities at each plane of development. She argued that a school carefully designed to meet the needs and interests of the child would work more effectively because it would not fight human nature. Montessori taught teachers how to “follow the child” through careful observation, allowing each child to reveal his/her strengths, weaknesses, interests and anxieties; and strategies that work best to facilitate the development of the child’s human potential.
This focus on the “whole child” led Dr. Montessori to develop a very different sort of school from the traditional adult – centred classroom. To emphasise this difference, she named her first school the “Casa dei Bambini” (Children’s House).
There is something profound in her choice of words, for the Montessori classroom is not the domain of the adults in charge, but rather it is a carefully prepared environment designed to facilitate the development of the children’s independence and sense of personal empowerment.
The principals of a Montessori approach to teaching and learning include:
- Children are capable of self-directed learning.
- It is critically important for the teacher to be an “observer” of the child instead of a lecturer. This observation of the child interacting with his or her environment is the basis for the continuing presentation of new material and avenues of learning. Presentation of subsequent exercises for skill development and information accumulation are based on the teacher’s observation that the child has mastered the current exercise(s).
- There are numerous “sensitive periods” of development, during which a child’s mind is particularly open to learning specific skills or knowledge such as crawling, sitting, walking, talking, reading, counting, and various levels of social interaction. These skills are learned effortlessly and joyfully. Learning one of these skills outside of its corresponding sensitive period is certainly possible, but can be difficult and frustrating.
- Children have an “absorbent mind” from birth to around age 6, possessing limitless motivation to achieve competence within their environment and to perfect skills and understandings. This phenomenon is characterized by the young child’s capacity for repetition of activities within sensitive period categories, such as exhaustive babbling as language practice leading to language competence.
- Children are masters of their school environment, which has been specifically prepared for them to be academic, comfortable, and to encourage independence by giving them the tools and responsibility to manage its upkeep.
- Children learn through discovery, so didactic (educational) materials with a control for error (auto correction) are used. Through the use of these materials, which are specific to Montessori schools (sets of letters, blocks and science experiments) children learn to correct their own mistakes instead of relying on a teacher to give them the correct answer.
- Children most often learn alone during periods of intense concentration. During these self-chosen and spontaneous periods, the child is not to be interrupted by the teacher.
- The hand is intimately connected to the developing brain in children. Children must actually touch the shapes, letters, temperatures, etc. they are learning about—not just watch a teacher or TV screen tell them about these discoveries.