Maria Montessori observed that the child learns effortlessly and absorbs knowledge from its environment and develops skills from experience. The main finding from her observation is that children learn on their own, in a natural and independent way. Examples of this are how we learn to talk or walk when we are babies. Dr. Montessori wondered what would happen if this ease and eagerness for learning and acquiring skills could be applied to other areas such as mathematics, language, science. With this in mind, she developed a complete curriculum and a full set of materials, which are manipulative, attractive and sequentially designed for learning.
The materials are placed in very specific order and are accessible to the child, so as to spark their interest. With her approach the child is given the freedom within limits to choose his work, and stay with it until the skill is mastered or the knowledge is acquired, in order to move to the next material and do more “work” as it is called in the Montessori environment.
Teachers act more as guides than teachers in the traditional sense, thus they are called “guides” or “directors/directresses”. In order to understand how to guide the children and what to do in a Montessori classroom full of manipulative materials, teachers must complete a rigorous training by a certified training institution such as Association Montessori Internationale (AMI).
The classrooms are arranged in such a manner that they replicate a home environment: rugs, a couple of small reading sofas, small individual or group tables paced strategically in the room. Each component, the flow of the room, the placement of materials and furniture, all of it is prepared purposely ahead of time to foster the acquisition of specific skills.
Discipline under this approach is understood as self-discipline, the ability to understand the limits of their freedom, to concentrate in his work, to respect the work of others. Discipline is not understood as the ability of the child to be quiet and immobile in class.
Classrooms are purposely multi-age, and a balance of children’s ages is carefully sought. Children learn from one another by observing and interactive. Younger ones learn higher cognitive and social skills, by observing others as models. Older children solidify their knowledge by teaching younger. They also develop a sense of community and learn to respect others as individuals. They learn that they don’t have to be all the same, and this lends itself to inclusion of children across the range of developmental and educational domains.