The Montessori Method and Stages of Development

Imagine that you are looking through the lens of camera at an expansive horizon.  In the foreground, you see a sprawling forest with thousands of trees and bushes.  Beyond the trees, rolling hills meet a bright turquoise skyline dotted with fluffy white clouds.  Snap!  Without any effort at all, your camera perfectly captures every element of the scene, and, you’ll forever have the image imprinted on a photograph.   

            Italian doctor and founder of the Montessori Method, Dr. Maria Montessori, believed that all children are born with something she termed “the absorbent mind”.  This refers to the intense mental period wherein children are able to naturally and spontaneously “absorb” knowledge and skills from their environment with little effort. Dr. Montessori compared this acquisition of skills to a camera taking a snapshot.  The child’s brain is like the lens of a camera, effortlessly soaking in everything in the environment.  Instead of being left with a physical image, like a camera produces, they are left with new knowledge.

            According to Dr. Montessori, the absorbent mind is developed in two distinct periods: the conscious stage and the unconscious stage.  After the absorbent mind fully develops, it is built upon as a child then develops the reasoning mind.  As with all things Montessori, caregivers, materials, and environments go a long way in helping to make the most of these important developmental periods.

The Unconscious Stage: Birth to 3 Years Old

            During the unconscious stage, children absorb information unknowingly.  A child may learn how to hold a bottle, sit, walk, and even talk with little conscious effort. His learning is dependent on what he sees and hears in the environment around him.  If a caregiver babbles the sounds “ba, ba, ba” then the child will likely learn these very sounds through listening and repeating.  The laws of nature also play a role in the child’s learning at this stage. If a four-month-old is placed on his stomach, he will naturally raise his head up as a reaction to the stimuli around him.  This results in the strengthening of his core muscles, which will eventually lead to sitting and then to walking. At this stage, he is absorbing everything in the environment around him which leads to important new learning.

How the Montessori Method Supports This Stage

            ·Organized, uncluttered environments allow for safe exploration when learning to crawl and walk.

            ·Muted colors and calm environments prevent overstimulation, which can result in frustration or a feeling of being unsettled.

            ·Caregivers create emotionally safe environments through eye-contact, gentle voices, and asking the child’s permission before hugging or touching.

            ·Materials that promote safe motor development for infants and toddlers are typically available.  Low ladders, stools, smaller furnishings, and padded surfaces are often a part of the Montessori classroom.

            ·Learning materials are safe and accessible.  Often placed on low shelfs at the child’s level, simple toys made from natural materials promote problem solving and prepare children for future success in all developmental domains. Even very young children are encouraged to independently select the materials they would like to engage with, play with it for as long as they are interested, and then put it away after they are finished.  This fosters confidence and an early sense of independence.

The Conscious Stage: 3 Years Old to Six Years Old

            As the child enters this stage, we see that she begins to become more aware of the world around her.  Her mind is still very much like a sponge, but she may begin to seek certain experiences, rather than just allowing them to happen to her. She understands that she is learning new things, and she finds joy in specific activities. She is now drawn to things like patterning, sequencing, and counting, which will lead to a later knowledge of mathematical skills.  She may also enjoy music and rhymes, which will lead to an understanding of reading and writing.

            We also being to see a stronger pull towards independence during this stage. She prefers to have more control over herself and her environment.  It can be enabling or frustrating when a caregiver provides too much direction or guidance during this stage.

How the Montessori Method Supports This Stage

            ·Children begin to learn practical life skills.  Tasks such as cleaning, and washing are an important part of the Montessori curriculum during this developmental stage. Such tasks reinforce the importance of taking care of oneself, others around them, and the environment.

            ·During this stage, children take in much information through their senses.  An array of sensory materials is provided, allowing children to learn through smelling, touching, hearing, seeing, and even tasting. Rocks rattling around in a tin can, cotton doused in lavender or vanilla, or a basket full of wood scraps are all worthy and engaging sensory materials.

            ·Concepts such as language and math occur as a natural consequence to a child’s interactions with the world around them.  When working with the engaging physical materials and provided with appropriate guidance from caregivers, these skills occur naturally.

The Reasoning Mind: 6 Years Old to 12 Years Old

            As a child transitions into this period, we may see that they are much more interested in and able to comprehend complex concepts such as, measurements, equations, facts, and theories. According to Dr. Montessori, a child now has the ability to engage in a much higher level of learning.  Verbs such as investigate, imagine, create, reason, and calculate are a part of the child’s everyday learning throughout this stage. It is now the goal of the child to take all the information they acquired during the absorbent phases and organize it in a way that makes sense in the natural world around them.

How the Montessori Method Supports This Stage

            ·Lessons covering history, geography, biology, math, literature, and arts are presented in the form of stories, motivating children to engage in independent research.  Children are encouraged to work collaboratively, in small groups, to further their learning while fostering relationships

            ·Children set personal learning goals and create their own work plans with the guidance of a teacher.  This allows the child to follow personal interests and creates a sense of responsibility around the learning.

            ·Children are encouraged to work at their own pace when completing projects or engaging in new learnings. It was the philosophy of Dr. Montessori that children are more motivated to learn when working on something they’ve selected at a pace which is comfortable to them.  Montessori teachers provide observation and some guidance to ensure that a child masters a concept or doesn’t move on before they are ready.

Major Take Aways

            No matter what developmental phase a child may be experiencing, the Montessori Method assures consistent principles throughout. When instituted properly, a child will come away with an innate love of learning, a sense of independence and personal responsibility, and compassion and respect for others and the environment around them.