Freedom, independence, awareness
Dr Maria Montessori was one of the founders of early years education as we know it today. It is a testament to her pioneering vision that what she discovered about how young children learn has now been absorbed into mainstream pre-school education.
However, the uniqueness of her blend of theory and practice has meant that her original prototype for the nursery school has endured so that if you go into any Montessori school anywhere in the world and you will feel at home. You will be greeted by children working away independently, and largely on their own.
The distinctive materials have become iconic – the pink tower, the broad stair, the golden beads, the sandpaper letters. The beauty of the prepared environment is that it frees the child to take control of his and her own learning which is exponential at this crucial stage of development. Montessori’s genius lay in finding the means of satisfying the insatiable hunger for learning.
There will be an atmosphere of hushed concentration, interrupted by the occasional burst of excitement arising from the spontaneous joy of self-discovery. The role of the adult in a Montessori nursery has been likened to that of saint, scientist and servant. In a quiet gentle way, the teacher will animate the environment by showing the child how the materials work and what they can do.
After that it is hands on for the child, and hands off for the teacher. Materials can be accessed as often and for as long as is necessary to satisfy the child’s hunger for knowledge and experience.
Visitors to a Montessori nursery are always astonished by how accomplished and independent the children are, taking full responsibility for themselves, each other and their environment. Maria Montessori called this the Secret of the Child. But to a Montessorian it is no secret any longer. It is the fulfilment of a natural incarnation, achieved by granting one request, ‘Help me to do it by myself!’