Maria Montessori (1870-1952) believed that education should help each individual to realise their true potential. She recognised that children play the active role in their own development and that teachers/adults are there to guide them. She also acknowledged that all children are unique and need to learn and develop at their own pace. It is therefore important to recognise and respect the special rhythm each child is driven by.
A child under the age of three appears to learn with tremendous speed and ease, things that would take an adult a lifetime to attempt to master; namely language, movement, customs, habits, etc. Montessori described this ability to learn with such drive and seeming ease as due to the child’s ‘Absorbent Mind’. This was seen as the child’s way of learning – through unconscious absorption from her/his environment. In the words of Montessori, “impressions do not merely enter his mind; they form it” (Montessori, 1995:25).
In addition to this ‘Absorbent Mind’ she believed that a young child’s life is marked by ‘Periods of Sensitivity’. ‘Sensitive Periods’ refer to certain moments in a child’s life where they are ready for a particular type of activity and/or knowledge.
There are many different sensitive periods in a child’s development; namely to do with the learning of language, movement and co-ordination, development of the senses – touch, taste, sound and discrimination of colour, etc. During a child’s first six years these ‘Periods of Sensitivity’ are at their height of development.
These phenomenons of childhood, the ‘Absorbent Mind’ and ‘Periods of Sensitivity’, only last for a certain period in a young child’s life and never return. Therefore, we need to respect this fundamental time in a child’s development and understand its significance as a time for learning.
A suitable environment is crucial to a child’s development, particularly during these ‘Sensitive Periods’ where “The child does not just live in his environment; it becomes a part of him” (Lillard, 1972:110). During these periods, the child develops naturally by absorbing from their surrounding environment.
Watering Whole Holistic Preschool, whilst not strictly a Montessori school, incorporates many Montessori philosophies and methods in its approach. We have carefully and thoughtfully created a suitable learning environment in which each child has access to the different activities necessary for their development.
In keeping with the Montessori Philosophy, everything is kept in meticulous condition, as well as being colourful and attractive to the child and within their reach. In this suitable environment the child is free to direct their own learning and development according to their own needs and natural rhythm. We operate on the premise of allowing the child to guide their own learning process, at their own pace and are sensitive to the individual needs and personalities of all our children.
Most importantly we offer a nurturing, safe and happy space where children are given the freedom to learn and grow during their most critical formative period.
Maria Montessori strongly believed in the combining of different ages, specifically ages two and a half to five and a half years old. She believed that in this kind of environment, a bond and sort of harmony exists between the older and younger children which is hardly ever found between adults and children, creating a crucial and valuable ‘brotherhood’. Within this harmonious environment, there is admiration and love, as well as valuable assistance and learning that is shared between the older and younger children.
This approach provides opportunities for younger children to imitate older children they see performing activities as well as seek help/assistance from them. It also offers older children the opportunity to grow and learn from teaching and assisting the younger ones, so is clearly mutually beneficial to both groups. Within this environment an important aspect of a child’s social needs is being met.
Watering Whole has been set up with a wide variety of learning materials to cater for each individual child as they learn and develop at their own pace. It is based on the understanding that each child is unique and develops as such. We have various learning materials that are designed so as to be of particular interest to children during their particular stage of development. Our Montessori materials can be divided into four different categories: practical life exercises, sensorial materials, academic materials and the artistic and cultural materials.
The practical life exercises are usually what the children are first introduced to. They involve the element of caring for people and the environment and would usually involve activities that imitate duties or actions performed by adults in their environment, for example sweeping leaves or wiping the table.
The sensorial materials are to aid in the refinement and development of the senses which would in turn assist in intelligence building. Examples of sensorial materials include: jars to be sniffed for their aromas, sound cylinders to be listened to, colour tablets to be arranged in gradation, block towers to be built and knobbed cylinders to be put in their places.
The academic materials are used to teach subjects such as mathematics, languages, geography, reading and writing (These are mainly for the older children aged 4-5 years). Academic materials would include things like metal insets used for tracing, the movable alphabet, numerical rods and the spindle box.
Finally, artistic and cultural materials aim to develop idea communication and expression of self. They include music to listen to and appreciate, activities like ‘walking on the line’ and exercises using materials that develop hand and finger muscles for drawing.
This individualised syllabus and the special materials/apparatus we use along with the freedom to explore things in their own time, allow children to follow their own rhythm and unique path to development. Not only does this validate and support each child’s uniqueness, but it also recognises and respects the special rhythm each child is driven by.
We, the teachers, offer each child friendship, with a sense of love and security. Our role is to guide them in the learning process, which should all be done at the child’s pace according to their needs. This will ensure that the child feels not only successful, but will also develop with a sense of peace and happiness.
Information sourced from the following references:
Lillard, P.P. 1972. Montessori A Modern Approach. New York: Schocken Books.
Montessori, M. 1966. The Secret of Childhood. New York: Ballantine Books.
Montessori, M. 1995. The Absorbent Mind. New York: Holt Paperback.