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Maria Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952), the first woman physician in Italy, developed a method of teaching based on discovery. It is not adult instruction that children need to develop normally, but rather to be given the opportunity to act on their own initiative, guided by an adult. This is the basis of Dr. Montessori's method. Her many years of work with the children led this great educator to some conclusions which changed the course of modern education.

She concluded that the first six years of life are the most vital to human development. Children are born with minds that absorb effortlessly until they reach six years of age. Never again in life does this quality of the mind return. With using a biological foundation Dr. Montessori found that young children pass through "sensitive periods". These are inner impulses that guide the children to become interested in certain elements in the environment at very specific times. Children become involved in activities made aware by the sensitive period. These periods of involvement do not cause tiredness but the opposite, a feeling of self-fulfillment.

In a Montessori classroom the children are allowed to follow their own drives and to work with the learning materials of their choice. These materials are of great importance to the method.

They are made attractive and enticing but they are not toys to be chosen at random which are only of passing interest. They are scientific apparatus designed to help the child's mind focus on some particular quality. The materials are concrete, allowing the children to see and touch, not just memorization of information. The children work actively with the materials, using each piece for any length of time until it has served its purpose and the child is ready to proceed to something new.

The best time for a child to enter the Montessori program is between two and three years of age. In the program they are introduced to the exercises of practical life. These are everyday tasks such as dusting, pouring, folding clothes and sweeping. These exercises provide scope for movement, as they teach logical sequence. These exercises also develop independence.

At the same time the children use the sensorial materials. The children are led to study such qualities as breadth, length, colour, texture, weight, size as well as such geometric shapes as triangles, circles, squares and trapeziums.

When the children are ready, they become interested in the sounds of the alphabet and numbers. The specially designed materials help the children to absorb the basics to acquire the skills for mathematics and reading.

The children also work in the areas of cultural studies which are introductions to history, geography, music, art, science and natural history.

The Montessori method functions without the confines of a traditional structured classroom. Each child has rights and responsibilities. The program allows the children to create for themselves the ability to operate in the world. Whatever sort of school the child goes on to, the Montessori method will have ensured that they have made the most fulfilling educational use of their sensitive and absorbent years.


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