Maria Montessori (1870-1952), the first female medical doctor in Italy, was one of the great pioneers in the study of child development. She believed children effortlessly absorb knowledge and have a natural and intense desire to learn about the world.
In 1908 Dr. Montessori began her innovative approach with a group of children in Rome. Whithin a year, her accomplishments with these children earned world wide acclaim. She wrote 25 books on the various aspects of her theory and practice. Montessori schools have been established in over 50 countries, and her works have achieved great popularity and acceptance.
Dr. Montessori emphasized the role of the environment in providing the necessary elements to sustain and assist children in their development.
The teacher's job is to prepare this environment according to the specific needs of the child, making the furnishings and activities accessible, presenting clear lessons on the skills and concepts needed at the different stages of development, and providing countless opportunities to work with the Montessori materials. It is precisely through concentrating in this type of work that children arrive to a state of self-discipline and joy.
Montessori also observed that the development of a human being occurs in stages. It is necessary that the specific needs of each of these stages be satisfied in order to ensure a successful and complete development of the human being:
Birth to 3 years - an unconscious stage of rapid growth and absorption.
3 to 6 years - corrective period; unconscious knowledge gradually becomes conscious; obedience and inner discipline become established.
6 to 9 years - child builds the academic, social and artistic skills essential for life; the seeds of knowledge are sown.
9 to 12 years - child eagerly learns with conscious mind; intellectual interest for a lifetime will depend upon the opportunities presented in this period; it is very important to include as much exposure to the culture as possible.
12 to 18 years - time for choosing more concentrated areas of interest; important period of decision.
18 to 24 years - time to consolidate the mature personality and become a specialized worker for the benefit of mankind.
" Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teachers give; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference."