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One basic idea of the Montessori philosophy is that carried unseen within each child is the person that child can become. To develop his physical, intellectual and spiritual power to the fullest, the child must have freedom - a freedom achieved through order and self-discipline. The childï¿½s world is full of sights and sounds which at first appear chaotic. From the chaos the child gradually creates order and learns to distinguish among the impressions that assail his senses, slowly gaining mastery of self and of his environment.
Dr. Montessori developed what she called ï¿½the prepared environmentï¿½. Among its features is an ordered arrangement of learning materials in a non-competitive atmosphere which helps each child develop at his own rate. The human child, like any new plant or animal, has specific needs in order to fulfill its potential and grow into a healthy organism. There are specific times in the developmental timetable when certain needs, if met at this optimum time, will help the child fulfill her potential and it is easier for the child to learn a particular skill during the corresponding sensitive period than at any other time in their life. The Montessori classroom takes advantage of this fact by allowing the child the freedom to select individual activities which correspond to his own periods of interest. The teaching materials are on low shelves, where the child may choose any material they have had a lesson in. The materials are largely self-correcting, allowing the child to perceive their own errors. Their design frees the child from constant adult direction and offers them the opportunity for independent discovery and achievement.
ï¿½Never let the child risk failure until he has a reasonable chance of success,ï¿½ said Dr. Montessori, understanding the need to acquire basic skills before participating in a competitive learning situation. The years between three and six are those when a child learns the ground rules of human behavior most easily. These years can be devoted constructively to preparing the child to take his place in society through the acquisition of good manners and habits.
Dr. Montessori recognized that self-motivation is the only valid impulse to learning. Children move themselves toward learning. The teacher prepares the environment, programs the activities, functions as the reference person and exemplar, and offers the child stimulation. But it is the child who learns, motivated through the work itself, to persist in his chosen task. The Montessori child is free to learn because he has acquired an ï¿½inner disciplineï¿½ from exposure to both physical and mental order. This is the core of Montessoriï¿½s educational philosophy. Habits of concentration, stick-to-itiveness, and thoroughness established in early childhood produce a confident and competent learner in later years. Historically, schools have taught children to observe, to think, to judge. Montessori introduces children to the joy of learning at an early age and provides a frame-work in which intellectual and social discipline go hand in hand.
ï¿½And so we discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment. The teacherï¿½s task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the childï¿½
- Maria Montessori
Although traditionally children begin Montessori education at about three, the principles of self-motivated learning apply to all learning experiences. Modern research has validated Dr. Montessoriï¿½s method and many public, private and parochial elementary and secondary schools now use this approach. Montessori philosophy is not to be restricted to schools but is valid wherever in the world there are children.