Maria Montessori, physician, anthropologist and pedagogue, studied children of all ethnic, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds for over fifty years. Her intense scientific observation of the human being from birth to maturity allowed her to distill a body of philosophical, psychological and pedagogical principles. These, together with a vast range of auto-didactic materials, came to be known as Montessori Education.
The Montessori approach offers a broad vision of education as an “aid to life”. It is designed to help children grow from childhood to maturity. It succeeds because it draws its principles from the natural development of the child. Its flexibility provides a matrix within which each individual child’s inner directives freely guide the child toward wholesome growth.
Montessori classrooms provide a prepared environment where children are free to respond to their natural tendency to work. The children’s innate passion for learning is encouraged by giving them opportunities to engage in spontaneous, purposeful activities with the guidance of a trained adult. Through their work, the children develop concentration and joyful self-discipline. Within a framework of order, the children progress at their own pace and rhythm, according to their individual capabilities.
The transformation of children from birth to adulthood occurs through a series of developmental stages, or planes. Montessori practice changes in scope and manner to embrace the child’s changing characteristics and interests.
There are four planes of development. In the first plane from birth to age six, the child is characterised by his or her “absorbent mind”, absorbing all aspects of his or her environment, language and culture. In the second plane from age six to twelve, the child uses a “reasoning mind” to explore the world with abstract thought and imagination. In the third plane from twelve to eighteen, the adolescent has a “humanistic mind” eager to understand humanity and the contribution he or she can make to society. In the last plane of development, from age eighteen to twenty-four, the adult explores the world with a “specialist mind” taking his or her place in the world. Maria Montessori believed that if education followed the natural development of the child, then society would gradually move to a higher level of co-operation, peace and harmony.