Children have to be respected as being different from adults and as individuals who differ from each other. They must also learn to appreciate and respect themselves and others as being individual.
Children possess unusual sensitivity and mental powers for absorbing and learning from their environment that are unlike those of adults in both quantity and capacity. The Montessori environment provides children with the information to meet each individuals needs as an “Absorbent Mind”.
Children gradually develop self-discipline through freedom of movement and freedom of choice. The Montessori materials give them a sense of satisfaction that encourages them to develop concentration and the ability to complete activities.
Children are encouraged and helped towards independence as early as possible so that they can function by themselves and within a group.
A child moves freely around the Montessori classroom talking to other children, working with any equipment he chooses or asking the directress to introduce new materials. But they are not free to disturb other children who are working or abuse the equipment that is so important to all of them.
Children feel comfortable in an ordered environment. By achieving this in the classroom children then find it easier to make sense of the external world. Everything in our environment has a permanent place. The materials are devised, graded, grouped, and placed according to a purposeful design. The functional arrangement of the room and the materials helps the child feel secure because they know what to expect when they move into a given space. Order in the environment helps the child to do things without needing an adult’s assistance. Children move about as they select their work from the shelves, as they work with the materials, and as they return the materials to the shelves, and in this way they can select what is appropriate for their developmental level and intimate needs. This is not idle movement, but movement toward a definite goal. Children are helped to perfect their own movements through exercises in muscular co-ordination and as they move among the lightweight furnishings they learn to correct any awkward movements.
Within this framework of structure and order the child is free to direct his learning. They are given opportunities for making decisions and choices about what work is to be done from a wide variety of activities. A child decides how long they want to work at a given task, and then decides when he is finished according to his own criterion of completion. A child is also free to choose to “do nothing”. The directress respects that children have an intelligent reason behind their choices, which causes them to choose particular activities from the countless number he encounters.
REALITY AND NATURE
Experience of the natural environment helps the child achieve harmony within it. It also contributes to the child’s spiritual growth. A child should grow up close to nature.
The environment should be aesthetically pleasing, simple, and clean.
Montessori encourages social development. In a Montessori environment there are friendships and sharing. Children interact with each other and with the adults, gradually becoming more outgiving to each other. As there is no artificially induced competition for grades, the children learn to co-operate with one another. There is usually a three year age span among the children so that a younger child may learn from an older one. The respect that the directress shows toward each child will be a model for the children to follow in learning respect for one another.The young child has a need for privacy, so some areas and activities will provide for solitude (one chair at a table, a reading corner). There are other areas for getting together in groups of 2 and 3 or as a total group.
Social development follows as the inner formation increases and the child becomes more aware of his relationship to other children and the world around him. Older children (6 to 12 years) tend to work more in groups.
MONTESSORI DIDACTIC MATERIALS
Commercially made and teacher-made materials are part of the standard equipment in a Montessori environment. Nevertheless, Montessori apparatus without the Montessori spirit is useless. The purpose of the Montessori materials is:“…first, to stimulate the child’s natural desire to act and learn through action; second, to provide him with action which shall give him a better control of his own body and will power; and third, which shall lead him naturally from a single action to a more difficult one.”
A child must spontaneously take a lively interest in the material before learning can occur. Thus the materials are as simple and attractive as possible. They are attractively displayed on low shelves in a way that the child can easily see what he is expected to do with the material. Although there is only one piece of each type of apparatus, there is an abundance of materials so that there is something for every child. Materials are arranged in sequence as to their degree of complication. They are real objects, NOT TOYS.
With all Montessori apparatus it is not preoccupation with the materials that is of special value, it is the inner growth that accompanies it. In repeating an exercise a child acquires an ever-increasing sensibility, and is acquiring the power to discern. This is why spontaneous repetition is so valuable. A child is not content to use the material only once. They feel the need to repeat. They are acquiring a new power of perception, enabling them to see what they did not at first notice. A child must be allowed the freedom to go on repeating the exercise as long as he likes so that this inner ripening has time to take place.
Montessori materials are not the conventional learning equipment for teaching skills, rather they provide the stimuli that capture the child’s attention and initiate a process of concentration.
The craving for constant, unceasing activity and movement in a little child is intense. They must be allowed the space and freedom to move, for this is how they learn. When a child first comes into a Montessori environment they are often restless and distracted. They may have a short attention span or interfere with others. Then one day he begins to show an intense interest in one of the exercises (it does not matter which). This profound concentration in one exercise leads to a like interest in other exercises. Thus, we observe the orderly behaviour some people mistake for not enough freedom or being too strict.Children have a deep love and need for purposeful work. When they are ‘playing’, they are working to learn all about the world around them and their place within it.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE EARLY YEARS
“The most important period of life is not the age of University studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six… At no other time has the child greater need for intelligent help, and any obstacle that impedes his creative work will lessen the chance he has of achieving perfection”. [The period from 0-6 has been likened to the foundation of a building. If this foundation is not solid (with concentration, self- discipline, independence, and a love of learning) then the building put on the foundation will always have major flaws and eventually cracks will develop.] Since Maria Montessori wrote these words, research has shown the importance of the early years. During this early period unconscious learning is gradually brought to the conscious level, and the foundations for later learning are laid down.