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, understanding 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 “civilizing 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 to 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, and offers the child stimulation; but it is the child who learns, who is motivated through the 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”. This is the core of Dr. Montessori’s educational philosophy. Social adjustment, although 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 provides a framework in which intellectual and social discipline go hand-in-hand.
The American Montessori Society has emphasized the importance of Montessori insights for children and adults of all ages. Although children traditionally begin Montessori education at age three, the principals of self-motivated learning apply to all learning experiences. Modern learning research has confirmed the validity of the Montessori principles of programmed learning and the teacher/directress (who does not distort or inhibit the learning experience). Many public, private, and parochial elementary and secondary schools are now utilizing this approach.
There is something about the Montessori approach that nurtures creativity and inventiveness that we can all learn from. Your child's future might be much brighter with a little less conditioning to perform well on tests and more encouragement to discove. The Montessori educational approach might be the surest route to joining the creative elite, which are so overrepresented by the school’s alumni that one might suspect a Montessori Mafia.
Montessori education dates back to 1907, when Dr. Maria Montessori, one of Italy's first female physicians, opened a child-care center in Rome. Drawing on her previous work experiences, including scientific observations of young children, Dr. Montessori designed a unique learning environment and materials that fostered the students' natural desire to learn. They made gains that exceeded all expectations.
Montessori offers an education for life – and with that come the skills needed to succeed in our ever changing global society. It is no coincidence that many of the mavericks on the leading edge of creativity and innovation in our culture are Montessori graduates. To the millions of Montessori students, families and supporters around the world, the answer is obvious.