Montessori's Discoveries of Childhood

Montessori’s Discoveries of Childhood


By Pat Bowen, Academic Director-Arkansas River Valley Montessori

Dr. Maria MontessoriMaria Montessori did not set out to produce a new and improved method of education. She approached children as a scientist in order to discover their natural tendencies. As a result she taught us more about the way children learn than probably anyone else. Montessori is the only method of education that began with the child. All others began with a theory of how to get children to reach a goal that the adult had set. Maria Montessori looked at what the child was trying to achieve. By observing the child, she made a number of discoveries about children. Some of them, still not fully recognized, are:

  1. Children like to repeat a task many times. Sometimes we see a small child wash his hands over and over. From the child's viewpoint this has nothing to do with getting his hands clean, but everything to do with perfecting a skill.
  2. Children are capable of intense concentration for an extended length of time. This is the reason a Montessori class should have an extended time for work without interruption. Montessori wrote in much detail about the need for that time to be no less than a three hour work period.
  3. Children enjoyed silence better than noise. The classroom became quiet and serene. This is not seen if we interrupt children for group activities, to rest, or to introduce a different activity. We only see this when we provide an extended work period without interruption.
  4. Children preferred work to play.

She discovered that there are sensitive periods when a child is attracted to certain activities often to the exclusion of any others. Some of the sensitive periods she identified are:

  • language - one of the earliest and most intense. A child absorbs his native tongue effortlessly. Any language he learns as an adult is never learned perfectly.
  • order - peaks at about two years of age, but is very strong till the child is about six years old. Therefore a true Montessori classroom has a consistent structure as to schedule and placement of materials. This contributes to the peaceful atmosphere of a well-run Montessori classroom.
  • movement control - concerns many areas, includes large body movements (walking on the line) and small movements (writing).

The sensitive period for language extends to the written language as well as acquiring oral language. I taught many four and five year old children to read and write. Then I took the elementary Montessori training and began work in a first through third grade class. Most of the children had not been taught to read as I had taught those in my class. I thought since I had taught children as young as four to read that it would be a snap to teach these six-year-olds quickly and easily. I found to my dismay that it was not easier, but much harder, and they did not enjoy the activities that would lead them easily into reading. I had to diligently work with them to overcome their lack of motivation. They had missed their sensitive period for learning many of the pre-reading and reading skills. The most natural activity for a child is educating himself. Young children work at this almost all their waking hours. If we will but remove the obstacles that are in their way and offer them suitable materials, they will be most contented and happy.

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