“Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur.”
Young children have an acute mental absorption that enables them to learn at rapid pace from birth to six years of age. During this time, Dr. Maria Montessori also observed that children experience what she calls “Sensitive Periods” in their development. These are periods of special sensitivity when the child is fascinated by certain objects in his or her environment. These periods occur almost universally for all children at roughly the same age and provide optimal development of that particular skill or knowledge.
The Montessori Prepared Environment serves to bring this world to the child through carefully selected materials ideal for obtaining new knowledge and skills. Assorted items including globes, maps, songs, land forms, collections of pictures of life in different cultures, etc., is offered, with the aim of helping children to grow as individuals appreciating the larger context of their world. There are six main areas in the Montessori Prepared Environment: Practical Life, Sensorial, Math, Language, Culture and Art.
The Practical Life component of the Montessori approach is the connection between the child’s home environment and the classroom. Children’s innate desire to seek order and independence drives them to use various materials which in turn supports their development of fine motor and other learning skills. Practical life materials involve the children in specific movements which challenges them to concentrate, to work at their own pace, and to complete a lesson. This typically results in feelings of satisfaction, confidence, and independence. Practical life encompasses four main areas: Control of Movement, Care of Person, Care of Environment, and Grace and Courtesy.
From an early age, children are developing a sense of order. They enthusiastically seek to sort, arrange and categorize their many experiences. The sensorial component of Montessori provides an understanding that forms the basis for abstraction in thought. The sensorial materials give children experience in distinguishing between similar and different things. Later the child learns to differ in a measurable way from most to least. Each piece of equipment is usually a group of objects which isolate an essential quality perceived through the senses such as color, form, dimension, texture, temperature, volume, pitch, weight and taste. Specific vocabulary terms such as hard/soft, long/short, rough/smooth, circle, square, cube and so on is also attached to these sensorial experiences to make it even more meaningful to the child.
Maria Montessori did not believe that reading, writing, spelling and language should be taught as separate disciplines. Pre-primary children are immersed in their own language development and the Montessori approach provides an intricately thought-out method to facilitate learning. Oral language acquired since birth is further refined through a variety of activities such as songs, games, poems, stories and classified language cards.
Indirect preparation for writing begins with the practical life exercises and sensorial training. Muscular movement and fine motor skills are developed by carefully selected materials such as pipe cleaners, pens, and other small objects. The child is also prompted to distinguish the sounds which make up language. Not only are children given the opportunity to hear, see, and repeat sounds, but they can also feel them by tracing accompanying sandpaper letters. When a number of letters have been learned the alphabet is introduced, these cardboard letters enable the child to reproduce his or her own words. Non-phonetic spelling, grammar, and reading soon follows.