The Montessori method and philosophy began almost a century ago, on January 6, 1907, in a San Larenzo apartment building in Rome, Italy. Maria Montessori, a scientist, physician, anthropologist and philosopher, developed this method of education for children as the result of continuous scientific observations of the children of San Larenzo.
Maria Montessori noticed that the children had sensitive periods. During these sensitive periods the child works within one area of the environment at a time. Sensitive periods bring on intense concentration, so intense that the child will be almost unaware of the rest of his surroundings. The child during sensitive periods will also continuously repeat an activity until an inner satisfaction is met. The Montessori method calls this process of repetition normalization.
Montessori explained the accomplishments of the child’s highly developed cognitive skills with a description of what she called the absorbent mind. Montessori often said, “Impressions do not merely enter his mind; they form it” (Absorbent Mind, 1995). The absorbent mind first prepares the unconscious. The mind then slowly awakens to the conscious level, establishing memory, and the power to understand and reason. The knowledge that the child is internally seeking is then absorbed.
The Montessori method was created so that Maria Montessori’s philosophy could be implemented. Montessori believed the environment was second to life itself. She said, “it can modify in that it can help or hinder, but it can never create” (The Montessori Method, 1912). The Montessori environment is called the prepared environment. There are six essential components to the prepared environment: freedom, structure and order, reality and nature, beauty and atmosphere, the didactic materials, and the development of community life.
A child having freedom in a prepared environment will be able to develop physically, mentally, and emotionally to his or her full potential. The child uses this freedom to work with the educational materials and to socialize with others. All the materials are designed to fulfill the inner desire for self-construction and spiritual development of the child.
The materials indirectly prepare the child for future learning by capturing the child’s attention and initiating concentration. The materials at first are concrete and gradually become abstract. Each set of materials progresses from simple to complex. The prepared environment and its atmosphere must be pleasant to encourage positive growth and spontaneity. The environment must be cheerful, relaxing and warm, inviting the child to participate so he can fulfill his inner will.
Implementation of the Montessori method can be expensive, especially if you are planning to purchase Montessori materials. Fortunately there are many books, retailers, and Web sites that can help. A wonderful book for Montessori homeschool implementation is Teaching Montessori in the Home by Elizabeth Hainstock. Hainstock has also written books for Montessori homeschool implementation by age or grade. These books give detailed instructions on how to build or make your own materials and how to use them. The books are available in most bookstores and public libraries.