Children from three to six years are in a dynamic, expansive time of growth. Montessori’s first educational experiments were with this age group and there are more Montessori schools for this age than for any other. Montessori observed that, like a sponge, the child readily absorbs what his environment offers him during these years. It is out of this raw material that he builds himself. She called this developmental stage “the absorbent mind.” As the English poet William Wordsworth wrote, “The child is the father of the man.”
Maria Montessori understood that the work of the child is essential to all humanity; this work is the construction of the man or woman of tomorrow. She observed and identified the natural characteristics of young children:
- Spontaneous interest and deep concentration
- Desire for purposeful movement
- Love of repetition
- Love of order
- Desire for freedom of choice
- Preference of work to play
- Indifference to rewards or punishments
- Love of silence
- Sense of personal dignity
- Early interest in reading and writing
- Spontaneous self-discipline
- Interest in the cosmos and the interrelation of all things
Montessori designed a “prepared environment” that offers children the opportunity to freely develop these characteristics, which represent the developmental needs of this age period. This Montessori prepared environment offers activities and hands-on materials that correspond to these needs. The environment is structured around four avenues of learning.
Control of movement through the exercises of practical life
Children in this stage of development have a strong drive for purposeful movement. In Montessori classrooms around the world, you will find materials to help children coordinate and control their movements. For example, there is a set of dressing frames for learning to zip, snap, button, buckle etc. Children also pour, cut, fold, scoop, clean and sweep. These simple “practical life” activities lead to concentration, coordination of movement, independence and the internal sense of order.
Children of this age are also very drawn to activities that engage the five senses. Montessori materials are designed to clearly isolate specific concepts such as length, weight, shape, size and color. Children learn to compare and contrast using their senses of smell, taste, touch, sight and hearing.
During this period, children have an innate desire to learn new words, so vocabulary is presented with new materials and books every day. Maria Montessori also discovered that children age three and four are vitally interested in learning to read and write. The Montessori Method provides a sequence of simple steps that gently guides children to early reading and writing mastery.
Maria Montessori developed a sequence of concrete materials that illustrate basic mathematical concepts. Hands-on experiences with these materials lead children to an understanding of numbers, the decimal system and four operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
Maria Montessori had a profound respect for the child’s uniqueness and for what she called the “inner teacher,” the internal knowing of what is necessary for the next steps in development. In the Montessori prepared environment, children are free to choose the work that most appeals to them. When children select material that corresponds to their inner development, there is a magical focus of energies in genuine concentration. This concentration leads to strong internal growth and development and a remarkable peace and joy.
Whether your child is in a Montessori school or not, learning about these principles can help you better meet the developmental needs of your child.