"Dr. Montessori believed that no human being is educated by another person; he must do it himself or it will never be done. She therefore felt that the goal of the educational process should not be to fill the child with facts but rather to cultivate its own natural desire to learn.
Children between the ages of two and six can pick up knowledge and understanding effortlessly, spontaneously and joyfully. Dr. Montessori called the child's mind at this stage "absorbent" and compared its soaking in knowledge to a sponge's soaking in water. She also discovered that during these years there are sensitive periods when the child shows unusual ability to acquire particular skills and when it is actually easier for him to learn those skills than at any other time in his life. She found that small children possess a deep-seated love of logic and order in the arrangement of things around them and will work best within a carefully prepared environment that gives order and logic to the impressions they receive.
The classroom environment she prepared was scaled to a child's size and geared to his inner needs. It allowed him to experience the excitement of learning by his own choice and at his own speed. She believed that children are best able to comprehend their environment in very concrete ways, through immediate personal contact, and so she designed concrete tools to lead the child toward the ability to work in abstractions -- the numbers, letters and ideas which older people use to represent concrete things. She meant her equipment to be only a means to an end and to be relied on less and less as the child is more and more able to work with abstractions, feeling that there is an important correlation between muscular use of the hands. Error-control factors were included that indicate a child's mistake to him without his having to be told.
The teacher's role is to serve as an enthusiastic guide in the child's progress from simple to complex, from rudimentary to refined tools and from outer to self-control. She saw that, next to learning from his own experience, the child learns best from other children. Therefore, her children were grouped together in four year age spans in order to give the younger ones a graded series of models for imitation and the older ones an opportunity to reinforce their own knowledge by helping those younger. She believed that competition has no place in education until after the child has gained confidence in his own abilities.
Her research indicated that children have fantastic powers of concentration if properly stimulated, far exceeding that of most adults. It also showed that children would rather work than play, when given a choice between toys and really stimulating work. Last of all, Dr. Montessori concluded that freedom is a goal, not a starting point, and that educators have responsibility to train children's characters to achieve self-discipline and self-direction, which result from the mastery of meaningful first-hand experience and the fulfillment of the inner urge to expand and grow in one's own way (without jeopardizing the rights of others to have this same privilege).
These are some of the basic Montessori principles, but all the explanations in the world can give little idea of the way children can respond to Montessori's profound insights into the inner needs and workings of children, her respect for their initiative and ability, and her expectation that they will naturally do what is right without being forced. Through observation of the Montessori class action, one can understand the secret of her success. Dr. Montessori was an experienced classroom teacher, not just an educational theorist. Her ideas stemmed directly from observation of children in actual classroom situations. Every educator of this era who is searching for authentic historical success with pre-school and primary school children must come to terms with Dr. Montessori and her unique success in the classroom.
Excerpted from the preschool's website