Maria Montessori was one of the first people to study the psychology and pedagogy (the acquisition of skill) of the human child. She was well versed to do so, being the first female paediatrician in Italy.
She spent year upon year observing the individual, making tools for development, writing theories and making changes. She watched delinquents transform through their exploration of the environment in which she prepared. As a result, her books are full of theories revolving around the unique combination of the brain, the body and the environment, manifesting in a child’s unique individual growth.
A child enters the world, according to Montessori, biologically ready for human life.
With the help of the surrounding environment, the child grows to be a healthy, strong and amazing person. It is the combination of innate factors and a suitable environment that leads a child to being capable, no matter what their culture. When the biology of the child, or the environment is not adequate, cracks occur in the likelihood of potential. These cracks can be as a result of poor genetics, health in the womb, nutrition, love and care or lack of stimulation.
Each child is born with a mind that is essentially very different at birth to later in life. Montessori termed this mind, the absorbent mind. In the first three years of life, the child simply and effectively absorbs all the information they need from their environment. This has the purpose of rapidly growing the neurons of the brain to lay the foundation for what is to come.
Not only does the mind incessantly consume surrounding information, which includes that from the people within the environment, the child has other inbuilt mechanisms that assist this uptake of information. Namely, the little child naturally wants to explore, move, communicate, create, perfect, concentrate and attend to task and become an independent human being!
Through work and play in a given environment a child develops functional independence.
An independent child, through their own exploration is able to think for themselves, solve problems for themselves, help their friends solve problems and most importantly, develop self confidence, leading to self esteem and a healthy self concept.
Montessori also had a given terminology for the periods in which biology suggests a little child has a more heightened need for certain environmental stimuli. She defined these as the sensitive periods. At certain times the brain is more open to factors that progress development, such as order and routine movement, sensory stimulation, language acquisition, social development. She also clearly marked when the expected uptake of academics was likely to occur in relation to writing, literacy and numeracy. Basically, the baby child between one and three years needs order, routine and an environment that initiates movement, sensory exploration and language absorption. Post this period, the child will become more environmentally aware of others in their environment, the need to socialise and then abstract thought processes such as those required for academia.
The Importance of Environment
Maria Montessori insisted that it is the adult’s job to prepare an environment where the absorbent mind, the inbuilt mechanisms and the sensitive periods can all come together to reveal development. And thus, Maria Montessori’s legacy remains today in the schools seen in Australia. A Montessori school encourages each child to play out their growth in a well thought out environment, where the mind and body can grow and develop to potential, without interference from others.
Not only is this method apparent in Montessori schools around the world but it has been borrowed as the basis to many other methods in history. Recently, through brain scanning and mapping, much of what Montessori theorised about the psychology and pedagogy of the child has been proven, therefore leaving the Montessori method to again become even more popular.
Not only are the theories pertaining to growth and development described by the method useful to schooling scenarios, Montessori is a very popular method of raising children in the home and community. To develop an environment conducive to development at home or in care, the following principles apply.
The environment respects the child with child-sized furnishings and shelving, it is meticulously prepared with order and beauty. This allows the brain to remain organised rather than chaotic.
The adult provides beautiful equipment for the younger child for self -exploration and for the older more abstraction can be added, such as the use of mathematical and literary symbols, science concepts and art.
Practical life skills are the basis to any environment. These include the child taking care of their spaces and the people in it, using manners and developing their movement with care. These skills work with a child’s impending independence, attention and concentration and gross and fine motor muscles. Sensorial works capitalise on using the senses for learning and as a result, awaken the child’s awareness of the world. The environment considers language at first, such as books, pictures, singing and chanting and then, writing, literacy, mathematics and cultural development occur after an intense period of sensory, motor and language activity.
The adult, be it parent or carer, prepares the environment, observes and follows the child’s interests, provides introductory lessons according to need, progresses the child through the sequence from concrete to abstract thought, leaves the child to discover, work independently, repeat and reflect according to their own individual path.