Montessori materials are designed to aid in the child’s prevailing learning sensitivities. Dr Montessori developed the notion of “a right time to learn” – a time of heightened sensitivity when a child shows a strong spontaneous interest in certain aspects of the environment. The Montessori materials are a significant component of the prepared environment. They provide the opportunity for a child to work on tasks for extended periods of time and these experiences support the development of concentration.
An important feature of the materials is that they are mostly self-correcting. The way in which the children are encouraged to use the materials supports the development of orderly work habits and persistence at the task (problem solving).
Central to Dr Montessori’s concept of education is the idea that the child develops by being active. Children will come to know about their world if given the freedom to engage their full attention to exploring and to discovery. In the classroom, freedom is the key to the child’s spontaneous activity.
Children are given the freedom to choose what work they will do and for how long they will do it. A balance is maintained between the need of each individual to have sufficient freedom to grow and to develop towards independence and the necessity for order and harmony within the group.
The mixed age group with children of three, four and five years working in the same environment, is a major contributor to the learning outcomes. This further supports the growing child’s social learning. The three-year age range is a feature of a Montessori school so that commitment to a three-year program is a fundamental principle.
As the child moves on to Primary, they build on their pre-primary experiences. A 6-9 year old child will:
- satisfy their need for socialisation by being part of either a large or small group
- through collaboration, build a sense of community
- intellectually explore the next stages of development and independence through the facilities offered
- begin to discover the world and will challenge the immediate and future environments. Understanding that their actions can influence and contribute to humanity will be realised
- develop their innate awareness for empathy, consideration, predictability, optimism, perfectionism and justice
Teachers in the Montessori environment are called Directresses or Directors. Their role is wider than that of just and teacher – it is not exclusively or primarily as an imparter of knowledge but a director and facilitator of development. Dr Montessori believed that if children are given access to materials especially designed to support their development, they have the capacity to learn by their own actions. The task of the Directress/Director is to observe the children and then to link them to appropriate activities in the environment through simple short presentations.