Montessori is one of the fastest-growing and most popular educational methods in the United States today. It began in Italy in the early 1900s by Dr. Maria Montessori, a doctor and educator who achieved remarkable results with children by designing an educational program that makes the most of the innate desire of children to learn. The Montessori classroom is at the same time disciplined and self-directed. Children are provided with hands-on materials that enable them to learn math, language, science, and history, while at the same time developing intellectual curiosity, self-respect, and respect for the world around them. Instructors give small group lessons or one-on-one lessons, and then monitor the children's progress as they complete projects on their own, at their own pace. Montessori graduates are self-directed, motivated learners who are notable for the continuing excitement they find in learning.
There are now over 200 public school Montessori programs. Dr. Maria Montessori became the first woman physician in Italy in 1896. She spent many years observing children and saw that they were eager to learn. She made teaching materials which the children used to teach themselves. She trained teachers in many countries to use her materials and follow her methods. She wrote many books documenting her observations. Montessori education begins by the time the child is three. She believed that children have an absorbent mind which enables them to absorb an immense amount of information during their first six years. The concepts and information taken in from birth to three are part of the unconscious mind; they become part of the child's conscious intelligence as the child more actively manipulates objects in the environment from ages three to six. Dr. Montessori described the age of 6 to 12 as the second plane of development when the child is attaining a greater degree of intellectual independence. The Montessori classroom is prepared with the materials children need to develop themselves during their sensitive periods for learning particular skills. This is the time when a skill is learned most easily; a skill not learned may interfere with subsequent learning.
The Montessori teacher maintains a classroom environment in which each child is able to develop fully, while all learn to respect each other and the materials in the environment. Montessori classes are divided into age groupings. The children spend three years at each level, progressing at their own rates. The older children at each level naturally help the younger ones. The younger ones benefit from seeing all the possiblities for learning. Each level builds upon the others. The concrete materials at each level allow the children to first learn through their senses and then move to abstraction in the later elementary years. Children in Montessori classes learn according to their own developmental time line. They are expected to make responsible choices for their learning and to use their freedom well. Children appreciate the respect they are given and become mature individuals who love to learn.