Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952), a physician, anthropologist and pedagogue is recognised as one of the pioneers in the development of early childhood education. She was the first Italian woman to receive the medical degree from the University of Rome. Throughout her life she was a frequent participant in international feminist events. Montessori had a chance to work closely with two French physicians and Psychologists, Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard (1774–1838) and Edouard Seguin, (1812–1880), which helped her in developing Montessori education method.
Throughout her life she worked with children from around the world from different cultural backgrounds and concluded some common principles essential for physical, mental, psychological and spiritual growth of a child. Montessori philosophy is based on the belief that child is born with certain gifts provided by nature. These includes:
- Absorbent Mind
- Sensitive Periods
After years of careful observation, Maria Montessori was able to identify eleven important tendencies that compel human beings to construct and refine the world around them. Montessori classroom give every opportunity to cater these tendencies and to fulfill the requirement of inner soul of the child. Maria Montessori identified these human tendencies:
- Orientation: Children naturally orient themselves to the new environment.
- Order: order in the environment,
- Routine: is always appreciated by children.
- Exploration: with their senses children explore their environment to get familiar and feel secure.
- Communication: Humans are social animals; they feel delightful to share their thoughts, feelings and informations
- Activity: Montessori observed children enjoy movement. They are more interested in the process rather than always having a goal or end product in mind. Maria Montessori considered hands as tools of intelligence. Children know their environment by touching things and then further exploring it and make relevant connections.
- Work: Maria Montessori while working with children discovered that for children work leads to a feeling of accomplishment and self-respect. .
- Repetition: Children intend to do one task again and again naturally. Children repeat with the intent to master the tasks and eventually acquiring independence
- Exactness: Have you ever seen a child get upset because something was put back in the wrong place? Or watched them line up their blocks neatly before building a tower? Instinctively, humans seek to be precise in their work. Doing something exactly right brings enormous satisfaction.
- Abstraction: It is the human ability that we can think and generate ideas in our mind. Maria Montessori believed that in formative years children should given real and hand on experiences so children can develop clear and true abstraction about things around them.
- Perfection: This is something, which comes after exploration, manipulation and work. With this tendency children master their abilities to do different task and develop the ability to compose their ideas.
Maria Montessori while working with children and with careful observations discovered that children learn in a very unique way. They are blessed with what she called “Absorbent Mind”. Montessori saw a child’s mind acts like a sponge.
During her observation of a small child’s development, Dr. Montessori came to realise that the child absorbs his whole environment, without effort and unconsciously.
Dr. Montessori said “The child creates his own ‘mental flesh’, using for this what he finds in the world about him. This we have called the ‘Absorbent Mind’.” (Montessori, 1997 p66)
The mind of the child stays in absorbent state from birth until 5-6 years. During these formative years a child has the ability to absorb everything from the environment unselectively.
It is the responsibility of the adult in the environment to provide a ‘prepared environment’ that is suitable for the child’s physical, emotional and psychological needs, where child can absorb positive attitudes and then build appropriate abstractions.
Maria Montessori believed that children pass through phases from 1.5 years to 6 years of age in which they get involved in ‘feverish activities’. Dr. Montessori called these phases as developmental milestones or windows of opportunities. During the sensitive periods children mainly concentrate only on one aspect of their environment and excludes everything else. They immensely get involved into the activities and do it repeatedly over and over again. As a result, a new skill emerges and is mastered. The sensitive periods are transitory. It reaches its peak and dies away. A good example of the sensitive periods, which can be observed in children’s development, is the sensitive period to ‘Movement’. When a child climbs up and down the stairs again and again and is insistent about it. As a result, the physical growth of the child is promoted.
Montessori identified six major sensitive periods:
Sensitivity to order:
Age: 1year- 2 years of age.
During this time the child is very sensitive to order in the environment, routines and people around him/her. This period is most evident at the age of 18 months. Providing order in a child’s life helps the child to become disorientated.
Sensitivity to Language:
Age: birth to 6 years of age.
The child particularly focuses on the voices, sentence patterns, accents, and large vocabulary in the surrounding environment.
Sensitivity to Walking/ Movement:
Age: 12 to 15 months
The child gets involved in the movement activity to refine the skill and acquire physical development.
Sensitivity to Social Aspects of Life:
Age: 2.5 years– 3 years.
The child starts to show interest in other children of same age group in a co-operative way. It is the best time to prepare the environment where the child can develop appropriate social skills and manners.
Sensitivity to small objects:
Age: 12 months
During this time the child is drawn to small objects like insects, pebbles, minute details while driving, fine details in prints and in natural environment.
Sensitivity to learning through senses:
Age: birth to 6 years of age.
From the moment the child is born, the refinement of senses starts to take place. Montessori called child’s hands as tools of intelligence. Child learns through senses by touching, looking, feeling, tasting and hearing. Montessori introduced another sense ‘Stereognostic sense’ which enables the child to hold the things and manipulate them through his/her muscular sense. Like by grabbing, pressing and pouring etc.
Based on the philosophy of tendencies, absorbent mind and sensitive periods, Dr. Montessori developed a prepared environment which includes scientifically prepared materials. This environment promotes child’s physical, emotional and mental development by catering the tendencies, absorbent mind and sensitive periods occurring in child’s life. This environment reflects order, beauty, freedom, nature, real experiences, social environment and intellectual environment.