The Montessori Method of education is based on Doctor Maria Montessori’s (1870-1952) scientific observations about how children learn as they progress from birth to adulthood. Montessori discovered that children eagerly absorb information from their surroundings, and that if these surroundings provide opportunities for learning, that children would readily teach themselves. In Montessori classrooms children make their own choices in their learning and go at their own pace. While the classroom and trained teacher offer age- appropriate activities to guide the process.
Children work in groups and individually to explore and discover knowledge of the world and develop their maximum potential. Over more than 50 years, Montessori perfected the teaching principles, key learnings, and educational materials that provided children with the optimal learning environment.
Doctor Maria Montessori believed that children pass through specific stages in their development when they are most able to learn specific skills. In Montessori education, these are called ‘sensitive periods’. According to Montessori Theory, the most important sensitive periods occur between birth and age six. Sensitive periods are commonly referred to as developmental milestones. During their first six years of life, children move through five main categories of sensitive periods, including: order, language, sensory skills, movement, and social skills. Each sensitive period lasts for as long as it is necessary for a child to complete a particular stage in their development. These periods of special sensitivity are only temporary and fade once the aim is accomplished. The Montessori Classroom supports these periods by providing children with hands-on activities that encourage repetition and problem solving to maximize learning during these windows of opportunity.
The sensitive period for order begins at birth, peaks in the second year of development, and continues through to around age five. This period of development teaches kids how to develop their reasoning skills, organize information, and understand their environment. Sensitivity to order can be characterized by a desire for consistency and repetition, where children crave routine and structure. During this period of sensitivity, children may be more interested in putting things in order and packing things away, than they are in playing with their toys. To support the sensitive period for order, it is important to establish ground rules, a solid routine, and create an organized environment where everything has a place.
The first phase of sensory awareness, sensitivity to small objects, occurs from one to three years of age. This period can be characterized by a child’s fixation with small objects and tiny details. The completion of this phase indicates that an understanding of order and detail are coming together in the child’s mind.
The second sensitivity phase, sensorial exploration and classification, occurs from 2.5 to 6 years. This phase can be classified by an intense desire to take part in learning experiences that integrate the senses. These experiences provide children with a system to classify objects within their environment.
The sensitive period for movement can be divided into two phases. From birth to 2.5 years, children are sensitive to gross and fine motor development. This begins when the infant child learns to crawl, pull up, and eventually walk without assistance. Over time, children also develop fine motor skills through repeating activities that strengthen their hand muscles and improve hand-eye coordination.
From 2.5 to 4.5 years of age, children enter the sensitive period for refinement and coordination of movement. This is when the child begins to hold items using both hands, develop the pincer grip, and control and coordinate movement.
From birth to age six, children are in the sensitive period for language. Sensitivity to language involves three key phases: spoken language, written language, and reading. The sensitive period for spoken language is from 7 months to 3 years of age. It begins when the child first creates sounds by mimicking mouth movements, and progresses over time, as they learn to form words and simple sentences. The sensitive period for learning to write is from 3.5 to 4.5 years of age. This begins when the child learns their sounds, which form the foundation for reading and writing skills. Reading skills are often developed before a child learns to write.
From 2.5 to 6 years, children learn that they are part of a group and develop an intense interest in social relationships. During this time, children learn to direct their actions, attention, and behavior towards a group of people. This is the stage of development where children learn to develop friendships and participate in co-operative play.
The sensitive period for social skills is an appropriate stage to introduce the importance of manners and basic principles of human interaction.
Montessori materials are sensory-based learning tools that are designed to isolate one skill or concept. The materials encourage hands-on learning, independent problem solving, and analytical thinking. Especially unique, is that each Montessori material is designed with a visual control of error.
The Absorbent Mind period from birth to six years of age is crucial in a child’s development as they establish an understanding of themselves and their world. The Montessori environment supports children in this task by providing them with learning experiences that promote their sense of belonging, confidence, and independence.
Five Curriculum Areas
The Montessori curriculum is divided into five key areas of learning: Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematics, Language and Culture. Each curriculum area has a dedicated space in the prepared environment.
The role of the teacher is to be an observer with the goal of making each child more independent by intervening less and less. The teachers first responsibility is to prepare the environment. This is done by meeting the needs and interests of the child who is the main focus of the Montessori classroom. Through careful observation and planning, the teacher is constantly alert to the needs of each child.