"the joy of learning by experiencing"
     The basic idea in the Montessori philosophy of education is that every child carries unseen within him the man he will become.  In order to develop his physical, intellectual and spiritual powers to the fullest, he must have freedom -- freedom to be achieved through order and self-discipline.  The world of the child is full of sights and sounds which at first appear chaotic.  From this chaos, the child must gradually create order, and learn to distinguish among the impressions that assail his senses, slowly but surely gaining mastery of himself and his environment.
     Dr. Maria Montessori developed what she called the "prepared environment", which already possesses a certain order and disposes the child to develop at his own speed, according to his own capacities, and in a noncompetitive atmosphere in his first school years.  "Never let a child risk failure, until he has a reasonable chance of success", said Dr. Montessori, who understood the necessity for the acquisition of a basic skill before its use in a competitive learning situation.  The years between three and six are the years that a child most easily learns the ground rules of human behavior.  These years can be constructively devoted to "normalizing" the child -- freeing him through the acquisition of good manners and habits, to take his place in his culture.
     The child who has had the benefit of a Montessori environment is freer at a later age to devote himself more exclusively to the development of his intellectual faculties.  The method by which children are taught in the Montessori school might well be called "programmed learning".  The structure of Montessori learning involves the use of many materials with which the child may work individually.  At every step of his learning, the teaching material is designed to test his understanding and correct his errors.
     Dr. Montessori recognized that the only valid impulse to learning is the self-motivation of the child.  Children move themselves toward learning.  The teacher prepares the environment, programs the activity, functions as the reference person and exemplar, offers the child stimulation; but, it is the child who learns, who is motivated through work itself (not solely by the teacher's personality) to persist in his chosen task.  If the Montessori child is free to learn, it is because he has acquired from his exposure to both physical and mental order an "inner discipline".  So this is the core of Dr. Montessori's educational philosophy.  Social adjustment, though it is a necessary condition for learning in a schoolroom, is not the purpose of education.  Patterns of concentration, stick-to-itiveness and thoroughness established in early childhood, produce a confident and competent learner in later years.  Schools have existed historically to teach children to observe, to think, to judge.  Montessori introduces the children to the joy of learning at an early age and provides a framework in which intellectual and social discipline go hand in hand.
* As defined by The American Montessori Society

1. Who was Maria Montessori?
       She was an Italian physician and educator, the first woman to receive a medical degree in Italy  Born in 1870, she developed her method of education early in the 20th century.  She devoted her life to the education of children and was honored and respected throughout the world at the time of her death in 1952.

2. Why did she develop her special teaching method?
       She developed her method because she was so distressed with the usual rigid teaching techniques used in Europe at the time.  Feeling that the young child had more potential than educators realized, she began to develop this potenial by a sensorial approach (teaching the young child through his natural interest in exploring the world through the senses).

3. What is the Montessori method?
       This method is an approach to education which emphasizes the potential of the very young child, and which attempts to develop this potential by means of a prepared environment, utilizing specially trained teachers and special teaching materials.

4. What is the "absorbent mind"?

       Dr. Montessori was so impressed with the learning ability of the young child that she called the mind of the child the "absorbent mind".  (One of her books is entitled "The Absorbent Mind".)

5. What are "sensitive periods"?
       Montessori noted that there are age periods when a child shows unusual capabilities in acquiring particular skills.  She noted an order to a child's learning, times when they show particular interest for learning certain skills.  Some examples of sensitive periods are:  writing, 3 1/2 to 4 1/2; reading and numbers, 4 to 5; precise movement and coordination, 2 1/2 to 4; and social graces, 3 to 6.

6. What is the Montessori concept of "freedom"?
       Freedom is a goal, not a starting point.  A free child (or adult) is one who has developed his potential and prefers to work out problems for himself, but is capable of asking for and receiving direction when necessary.  An undisciplined and unskilled child (or adult) is not free, but is a slave to his immediate desires and is excessively dependent on others (whether parent or teacher or wife or husband).  The free child, of course, grows into the free adult.

7. What is the Montessori concept of discipline?
       The Montessori discipline is an "inner discipline" -- control which the child develops over his own behavior through his interest in the Montessori materials and through the firm, gentle guidance of the teacher.  Dr. Montessori noted that many so-called undisciplined children were really frustrated by lack of proper stimulation, and would become happier and more self-controlled after a period of time in a Montessori class.  Adult expectations and limit-setting are inherent within the prepared environment and this gives the child security.

8. What is a "normalized" child?
       That is a child who has reached a level of self-discipline and self-esteem so that he feels positive about himself and confident in his abilities.  This child has respect for himself and for others.

9. At what age should a child enter a Montessori class?

       According to Montessori, during the sensitive periods between age 2 1/2 and 4 1/4 is the best time to nurture the natural process of learning.  Five year olds, although they are past the sensitive periods denoted by Montessori, are still malleable and can benefit from enriched sensory stimulation.

10. After Montessori School, is the child ready for first grade level?
       Yes, and moreover often acquires skills and knowledge traditionally taught at the first grade level during the period he attends Montessori.

11. How large are Montessori classes?
       The question of size of a Montessori class is controversial, though it is important that there not be too few pupils in a class in order to provide enough peers at each age level for friendships to occur and also in order to balance the different age levels.  New classes begin with 12 to 15 pupils and gradually increase in size over a two year period.

12. Is there ever any formal teaching in a Montessori school?
       Yes, even the youngest child may receive specific lessons, for instance in language or music.  The main emphasis, however, is on preparatory activities structured to develop adequate readiness for learning.

13. Can I buy Montessori materials?
       Most Montessori materials are manufactured in Holland and sold only to Montessori schools.  Although there are many good educational materials available now, Montessori materials are unique.  They are scientifically designed to teach specific skills. 
The Montessori system is more than materials, it is the totality of a psychological, physical, and social environment that builds character and good attitudes conducive to long ranged development of the individual.

14. What is the main goal of Montessori education?
       The main goal of Montessori education is to give a child a positive start in the lifelong process of learning.  The teacher creates a positive, interesting, and creative environment in which a child naturally learns in his interaction with the environment.  Education at its best nurtures the inherent talents in each person.  Dr. Montessori was an educator who recognized that true education comes from within and schools educate best when they allow learning to take place.

The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori
Discovery of the Child by Maria Montessori
The Secret of Childhood by Maria Montessori
The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori
Montessori, A Modern Approach by Paula Polk Lillard
Learning How to Learn by Nancy McCormick Rambusch
Dr. Montessori's Own Handbook by Maria Montessori