Maria Montessori
Montessori in the Press

Montessori in the Press

Montessori Approach at Pre-School
by Bola Benson - 09.05.2006

Montessori viewed education as an aid to life and succeeds because it follows the natural development of the child towards fulfilling each child’s potential. In a marked departure from traditional teaching methods, Montessori advocates ‘following the child’ rather than leading him. The approach is based upon the premise that the child has an inborn desire and capability to fulfil his own developmental needs and the adult/educator’s role is to support this developmental work.

Through prolonged scientific observation, Maria Montessori noticed the progression of the child’s development from birth towards adulthood. In doing so, she discovered certain principles that are at the crux of her approach. These include concepts on the Absorbent Mind, Tendencies and Sensitive Periods. In proposing the concept of the Absorbent Mind, Montessori refers to the manner in which the infant from birth takes in everything from his environment in a non-selective, non-discriminatory and unconscious manner. The infant absorbs impressions effortlessly towards his own self-construction, like a sponge. However unlike a sponge, the information acquired is retained. Whilst we are unable to see the process of this absorption, we see the manifestations. Thus the child who has absorbed language from his environment will eventually talk without being taught.

Tendencies refer to man’s in born directive that propels him towards this self- construction; helping him to adapt to his environment. Some of these tendencies include those for language, movement, independence, creative imagination and exploration. These tendencies are appropriate to different stages of development. , thus a toddler’s tendency for social behaviour is not as strong as that of the teenager who is keen to be strongly identified with his or her peer group. Tendencies are unique to human beings and ensure their ability to survive and adapt in environments from the arctic to the desert. Conversely, animals are circumscribed by their physical limitations which mean the polar bear will survive in the arctic but not in the desert.

Man’s gift of intelligence coupled with these tendencies ensures he has no such limitations. Finally, in examining the principle of the Sensitive Periods, Montessori drew upon the work of the Dutch biologist, Hugo de Vries, who applied it to different stages of animal development. Montessori adopted the term to refer to the internal timetable that ensures human beings reach certain developmental stages at the same time i.e. we all walk and talk about the same time without external teaching. Some of the sensitive periods she identified include those for movement, independence, order, social behaviour and refinement of the senses. Armed with the knowledge that these stages must be reached, human beings unconsciously will do what they need to achieve it. Within these limited periods, man is irresistibly drawn to specific aspects of their environment towards the achievement of a specific characteristic. Thus a child from birth watches the movement of those around him, noting with fascination the mouth of the speaker, his vocal chords move into position and will finally make the connections to produce sounds independently. This activity will not stop until language is mastered. These windows of opportunity are limited and transient and whatever characteristic is achieved, is done effortlessly and with joy. There are two facets to the sensitive period; an internal one within which the inner creation takes place and is not outwardly visible and the external activity which is visible. The sensitive period for language provides a clear illustration of these two phases; as a result of the child’s tendency for communication, the child is urged to learn to speak. This is evident that even at birth the child can cry; enabling his vocal chords to drop into position, he watches the mouth of the speaker with fascination and finally the child learns to speak.

With due regard to these principles and the developmental needs of the Child, Montessori introduced the Children’s House. The Children’s House provides an environment created for a special purpose for the three to six-year old child; to assist the full and natural developmental needs of the child, staffed by adults trained to observe and respond appropriately to the child’s needs. Montessori materials put the child in touch with activities that respond to their development, with which the child becomes involved towards his own self-construction.

Benson is the Director, The Libra House Montessori School, Lagos