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Dr. Maria Montessori believed that no person is actually educated by another individual. Rather, she believed that he must do it himself or it will never be done. A truly educated person will continue to learn for years after he leaves the classroom. He is motivated from within by a natural curiosity and love for knowledge. Thus, Dr. Montessori believed that early childhood education should not serve to fill the child’s head with facts, but instead to cultivate his own natural desire to learn.
In order to cultivate this desire to learn, Montessori students experience the thrill of learning by their own choice. In addition, Montessori students are helped to perfect their natural tools for learning so as to ensure that their ability to learn in future situations is at a maximum.
The material used in class has been created to meet the young child’s unique aptitude for learning. Dr. Montessori frequently compared children’s minds to sponges, which is often referred to as the ''absorbent mind''.
Since the child retains this ability to learn by absorbing until he is almost seven years old, Montessori reasoned that his experience could be enriched by a classroom where he could handle materials which would demonstrate basic educational information to him. Over ninety years of experience has proved her theory that a young child can learn to read, write and calculate in the same natural way that he learns to walk and talk. In a Montessori classroom, the equipment invites him to do this at his own periods of interest and readiness.
Another observation of Dr. Montessori’s which has been reinforced by modern research, is the importance of the sensitive periods of intense fascination for learning a particular characteristic or skill, such as going up or down steps, putting things in order, counting or reading. It is easier for the child to learn a particular skill during the corresponding period than at any other time in his life. The Montessori classroom allows the child freedom to select individual activities which correspond to his own periods of interest.
Although the entrance age varies in individual schools, a child usually enters a Montessori Casa classroom between the ages of 2-½ and 4 years old, depending on when the child can be happy and comfortable in a classroom situation. He will begin with the simplest of exercises based on activities which all children enjoy. The equipment which he uses at the age of three and four will help him to develop the concentration, coordination and work habits necessary for the more advanced exercises he will perform at five and six. The entire program of learning is purposefully structured. Therefore, optimum results cannot be expected either for the child who misses the early years of the cycle, or for one who is withdrawn before he finishes Kindergarten.
Parents should understand that a Montessori school is neither a babysitting service nor a play school that prepares a child for traditional Kindergarten. Rather, it's a unique cycle of learning designed to take advantage of the child’s sensitive years between 2-½ and 6, when he can absorb information from an enriched environment. A child who acquires the basic skills of reading and arithmetic in this natural way has the advantage of beginning his education without drudgery, boredom, or discouragement. By pursuing his individual interest in a Montessori classroom, he gains an early enthusiasm for learning, which is the key to his becoming a truly educated person.