The basic premise of the Montessori philosophy of education is that all children carry within them the adults they will become. In order to develop their physical, intellectual and spiritual abilities to the fullest, they must have freedom–a freedom achieved through order and self-discipline.
The world of children is full of sights and sounds, which at first appear chaotic. From this chaos, children must gradually create order and learn to distinguish the impressions that assail their senses, slowly but surely gaining mastery of both themselves and their environments.
Dr. Maria Montessori developed what she called the “prepared environment,” which already possesses a certain order and allows children to develop at their own individual speeds, according to their own capacities, in a non-competitive atmosphere in their 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.
From the ages of three to six, a child most easily learns the ground rules of human behavior. These years can be constructively devoted to “civilizing” children, freeing them through the acquisition of good manners and habits, to take their places in their community.
The method by which children are taught in a Montessori classroom can 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 learning, the materials are designed to test understanding and correct errors. Children are encouraged to self-correct, helping them develop self-monitoring skills while mastering new concepts.
Dr. Montessori recognized that the only valid impulse to learning is the self-motivation of child. Children move themselves toward learning. The teacher prepares the environment, designs the activity, functions as a guide, and offers the child stimulations; but it is the child who learns, who is motivated through the work itself (not solely by the teacher’s personality) to persist in the chosen task.
If Montessori students are free to learn, it is because they have acquired an “inner discipline.” 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, perseverance, and competence established in early childhood produce a confident and competent learner in later years.
The Montessori method introduces children to the joy of learning at an early age and provides a framework in which intellectual and social discipline goes hand in hand.
American Montessori International (AMI) has emphasized the importance of Montessori insight for children and adults of all ages. Although children traditionally begin Montessori education at age three, the principles of self-motivated learning apply to all learning experiences.
Many public, private, and parochial elementary and secondary schools are now utilizing this approach.