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montessori method

Dr. Maria Montessori believed that no human being is educated by another person. He must do it himself or it will never be done. A truly educated individual continues to learn long after the hours and years he spends in the classroom because he is motivated from within by a natural curiosity and love for knowledge. Dr. Montessori felt, therefore, that the goal of early childhood education should not be to fill the child with facts from a pre-selected course of studies, but rather to cultivate his own natural desire to learn. In the Montessori classroom this objective is approached in two ways: first, by allowing each child to experience the excitement of learning by his own choice rather than by being forced and second, by helping him to perfect all his natural tools for learning, so that his 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.

The use of the materials is based on the young child's unique aptitude for learning which Dr. Montessori identified as the "absorbent mind". In her writings, she frequently compared the young mind to a sponge. 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 his or her experience could be enriched by a classroom where he could handle materials which would demonstrate basic educational information to him. Over one hundred years of experience have proved her theory that a young child can learn to read, write and calculate in the same natural way that he learns to walk and talk. In a Montessori classroom, the equipment invites him/her to do this at his/her own periods of interest and readiness.

Dr. Montessor stated "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 your child's mental development takes place before he is eight years old, the importance of favorable conditions during these years can hardly be over-emphasized.

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 characteristic or skill, such as going up or down steps, putting things in order, counting, or reading. It is easier for the child to learn a particular skill during the corresponding 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 which correspond to his own periods of interest.

Although the entrance age varies in individual schools, a child usually enters a Montessori Casa classroom between the ages of two and a half and four, depending on when he can be happy and comfortable in a classroom situation. He will begin with the simplest exercises based on activities which all children enjoy. The equipment which he uses at three and four will help him to develop the concentration, coordination and work habits necessary for the more advanced exercises he will perform at five and six. The entire program of learning is purposefully structured. Therefore, optimum results cannot be expected either for the child who misses the early years of the cycle, or for one who is withdrawn before he finishes the basic materials described here.

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 the child's sensitive years between three and six, when he 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 his education without drudgery, boredom, or discouragement. By pursuing his individual interest in a Montessori classroom, he gains an early enthusiasm for learning, which is the key to his becoming a truly educated person.