After careful observations of children, Dr. Montessori believed that children, if given the freedom and liberty to choose and act freely within an environment that is specially prepared with materials that offer the child meaningful and purposeful activities, will act spontaneously and work for optimal development.
She therefore created a curriculum and a set of scientifically designed materials that provide experiences contributing to the growth of each individual learner.
Dr. Montessori took into account her scientific observations of the sensitive periods, absorbent mind, planes of development and potentialities when she developed her method of educating.
The Sensitive Periods that a child experiences is a block of time where the child is extremely interested in a certain aspect of life (for e.g. movement, repetition, curiosity, etc.) and will exclude anything else at that particular time.
The child is in an important phase of development between birth and 6 years, and Dr. Montessori identified the Absorbent Mind in this age range. The child is born with an amazing absorbent mind that enables him to spontaneously and effortlessly gain knowledge and abilities easily till the age of 6 without judgement and criticism. He will absorbs more knowledge and information from the environment at this stage than he ever will in his life again.
Dr. Montessori identified four distinct planes of development in human development and said that different characteristics, learning methods and developmental needs are active in each of these phases, and therefore deduced that the educational approach should be specific to each phase.
There are 14 distinct Human Tendencies/Potentialities (all that have existed since man first appeared on earth and which has accounted for his survival on the planet so far) that Dr. Montessori said was vital for human sustainability. Most of these tendencies are heightened in the first six years of life, Montessori education at each successive level that the child is in, is determined by the basic human urge to explore. For children under 6 years, the environment is filled with real life practical life and sensorial activities, that enable him to fully integrate his potentialities by exposure and exploration of the Montessori prepared environment.
The Montessori classroom is a safe “prepared environment” that is specially organized and arranged to meet all of the child’s developmental needs. It contains scientifically designed, self-correcting, didactic materials that invite children to engage in learning activities of their own individual choice as they perseveres in their pursuit to be self-constructive, independent and happy as they grows and develop from a baby. The prepared environment includes the areas where the materials are set out for use by the child, the child and the qualified directress/teacher (and the assistant).
The qualified directress/teacher (and the assistant) is the direct link between the equipment and the child; preparing, maintaining, facilitating and guiding the child. She must make sure that she constantly observes the child to see what his needs and interests are so that she can guide the the child to be constantly engaged in meaning and purposeful work.
The child is free to repeat an activity as often and as many times as he would like until he feels that he has mastered it and will eventually naturally cease to choose that activity again. The child will internalise a feeling of success and confidence. Repetition is vital as it helps to refine the child’s senses through the exercise of attention, concentration, comparison, and judgment.
This is how children are also given freedom in the environment. It does not mean that he can do whatever he likes, but rather that, within clearly defined boundaries, he has the freedom to choose what activity to work with (once it has been presented to the child), freedom to choose where to sit when working (at a table, on the floor, in large groups, on the child's own, etc.), freedom to move around the environment and freedom for the child to work on his own or with someone, as long as it is is meaningful and purposeful and that will encourage him to think independently and behave responsibly, whilst showing respect for others and the environment.
Freedom in the prepared environment therefore also leads to the child being able to develop his own internal discipline/self-discipline. He becomes his own master when he can control his own behaviour when he has to follow rules. This is the beginning of the creation of the confident, disciplined, competent and independent child who is happy and is able to give and receive love.
The acquisition of independence is one of the most important goals of Montessori education and is directly related to high self-esteem, competence and cooperation. Therefore, every aspect of the Montessori classroom has been designed with the goal of an independent child in mind. Every feature and piece of equipment in the classroom is fully accessible to the child, so they don’t have to constantly ask for help getting things. Tools, like the broom, are of a size they can handle easily, and children are free to choose their own work. The Montessori directress is trained to encourage independence by allowing the children to do things for themselves as soon as they are capable i.e. to allow the child opportunities to move, to dress themselves, to choose what they want to do, and to help the adults with tasks, all in a respectful and responsible manner.
Perhaps the biggest aim of Montessori Education is to foster a love of learning in each and every child. It teaches the child how to learn instead of simple what to learn. By allowing children to take an active role in their own learning reinforces their excitement to learn. Getting their hands on the materials and working with each other helps to solidify their experiences and learning, as well as continue to foster their social development. It instills in them a life-long love of learning, which prepares them to successfully go in any direction their skills and interests may take them.