As a scientist and the first female medical doctor is Italy, Maria Montessori had a unique passion for understanding how children develop and learn. As a result of her investigations, she created a strong theoretical basis and designed a system of prepared activities and materials to guide the progression of learning in different areas: language, daily life, mathematics, culture and sensorial awareness.
The theories of the absorbent mind, the sensitive periods, and the human tendencies are universal and lay a foundation for her educational method.
The absorbent mind recognizes that at under six years of age, a child’s brain is able, without effort or discrimination, to absorb what he observes in his environment and build his knowledge base from that in a very different way than an adult brain learns. This allows children to easily adapt to their culture of birth: language, mannerisms and other cultural features are formed in a natural way. Because of this absorbent mind phenomenon, learning a second language alongside the mother tongue can take place in an easy and effortless way. The sensitive periods for learning are times in the early years when a child is irresistibly drawn towards certain things. This indicates that the psychological development of a child is not random, but carefully guided by nature.
After a child has passed a sensitive period, the heightened sensitivity to learn that certain ability also passes. The ability can be acquired later as well, but never again with the same ease as during this time. Understanding these periods of enhanced learning ability help teachers guide children to activities that will interest them and challenge them.
The human tendencies push a child towards developing his or her personality and abilities, making them flexible and able to adapt to any environment. The tendencies are for communication, movement, observation, exploration, curiosity, imitation, concentration, calculation, repetition, imagination, work/activity, orientation, order, abstraction, exactness, self-perfection, belonging to a group, and self-control.
Montessori teachers create a prepared environment where children can explore and follow their inner drive for learning and spark their natural interest in the world around them so they will have a positive attitude towards lifelong learning. Teachers give guidance individually to find the right level of activities that are of interest. Through this learning- rich environment, self-esteem and confidence are strengthened through many possibilities for little successes each day.
The Playschool has a mixed age group, with boys and girls of different ages, so children naturally become comfortable with people of different ages and levels of skills, to learn to understand each other and work together. Older children are role models and helpers for younger ones, who give their older friends the opportunity to practice their new skills.
Providing many opportunities for developing concentration is a central aim. A child needs time to find the activity that sparks his or her interest and settle into doing it; sometimes they become very passionate about an activity and continue for long periods of time. The works are designed to hold their interest and take the learning challenges to deeper levels the more they work with them.
Montessori found that a longer, uninterrupted working period (she recommended 3 hours) gives children the freedom to explore and enjoy their activities in an unrushed way without unnecessary interruptions. The ability to focus and concentrate is one of the key elements of learning, and it is also one of the things that is becoming harder to do in today’s rushed society. Every child has his own inner pace for learning, and giving time to learn supports that on an individual basis.
In these surroundings it is easy to match a child’s individual interest with their ability. The prepared learning materials are designed to pursue several learning objectives simultaneously such as observation, concentration, train fine motor skills, evaluation, reasoning, mathematics and language. Where these interest and ability levels meet, it is possible to experience moments of Flow, moments of deep meaningful concentration.