Dr Maria Montessori started her work in the field of education and child psychology, when she had already obtained a doctor’s degree in medicine and surgery. Her scientific training and experience were exceptionally broad based and unique. Her approach to education encompassed the whole development of man from birth to adulthood. The most important contribution of her work, in the present day, is the focussed attention on the fact that no attempt to solve social and moral problems of the society will succeed if it is concentrated only on man-the-adult, and not on the whole man, including his childhood.
Therefore early child education becomes important for a better society.
“Today in social life, there exists an urgent need- that of reforming methods of education and instruction, and whoever strives to reach this goal is striving for the regeneration of man”(The Discovery of Child, Chapter 2, Page 2). This motivation to create new human kind through early education was the hallmark of the education philosophy of Dr Montessori.
Dr Montessori observed that regular education follows a steady ascent, becoming increasingly difficult year after year, after starting at the age of 06 yrs.
However, she discovered, through her innovative experiments, that human development and learning is not steady and linear, but happens in a series of formative planes, starting from the birth of the child. She also discovered that the complete development of human being is made possible by the tendency of the human being to certain universal actions in relation to their environment and the most productive development was observed when the environment was self chosen and close to the interests of the child. Dr Montessori felt that adult should not assume that the child is empty vessel waiting to be filled with our knowledge and experience.
It is important to understand that the child has own potential for life and a suitable environment is to be created for the child to exercise the opportunity to learn on his own under limited close observation. Dr Montessori maintained that the first period of life was the most important in a child’s development, it is during this period that thechild’s powers of absorption and learning are highest and life-long attitudes and patterns of learning are firmly formed. She believed that “the child is endowed with unknown powers, which can guide us to a radiant future” and “The greatness of human personality begins at the hour of the birth”(The Absorbent Mind, Chp 1, Page 2). Dr Montessori termed that every creature, whether plant or animal, comes from a primary, simple and undifferentiated cell with the characteristics of the creature thus developed, greatly depending on some unidentified force.
Every germ cell bears within itself a pattern of the organism to be, without visible sign, so that every new-born body, whatever species, bears in itself a pattern of psychical instinct, of functions that will set it in relation to its environment, for the fulfilment of a cosmic mission. Dr Montessori felt that this environment must provide not only the means of physiological existence, but stimuli to the mysterious mission inscribed in every creature that is born, all of which was summoned by their environment not only life but the exercise of a necessary office for the conservation of the world and its harmony. In this way, Dr Montessori, described that there are two initial embryos, namely physiological or the physical and spiritual, each with distinct roles to play in the life of a child.
She distinguished that these stages of early development, in man as pre-natal and post natal, where-in, this post-natal work is a constructive activity which is carried on in what may be called the “formative period”, and makes the baby into a kind of “Spiritual Embryo”(The Absorbent Mind, Chp 7, Page 62). According to this postnatal development happens only in man and the prolonged infancy of man separates him entirely from the animals, whereby man is seen as a being different from all others. Dr Montessori believed that for the psychic pattern to reveal itself, two conditions must be fulfilled, first, the environment that he interacts to understand the limit of his universe, second, the freedom to reveal himself. She emphasised that when these two conditions are met, the psychic life of the child will not reach its potential and his personality will be stunted.
Dr Montessori strongly felt that, the work of man on the earth is related to his spirit, to his creative intelligence, therefore this spirit and creative intelligence must be the fulcrum of his existence, and of all the workings of human body. It is about this fulcrum, the behaviour and physical economy is organised. Dr Montessorisays that the whole man develops within this “spiritual halo” and therefore first care given to the new-born babe, over riding all others, must be a care for his mental life, and not just for his bodily life. Dr Montessori described the time line of 3 yrs from birth, as the period of ‘Spiritual Embryo’, and all the non-physical qualities namely his intelligence, temperament, personality, spirit and soul develop in this stage.
Dr Montessori describes that development of child is due to an unconscious power, a vital force, she borrowed a word ‘horme’ to describe this vital force, which is similar to the force that created ‘Nebulae’, pushed by the universal unconscious intelligence of force. She thought that, this force is similar to the force that is pushing or driving the entire world towards teleological end in the philosophy of the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Dr Montessori opined that the child has a different relation to its environment, the child absorbs the environment and it becomes his soul and reincarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and ears hear and child is transformed by them.
”This vital kind of memory, which does not consciously remember, but absorb images into the individual’s very life, has been given a special name by Sir Percy Nunn, called Mneme”(The Absorbent Mind, Chp 7 , Page 74). All the social and moral habits that shape a man’s personality, the sentiments of caste, and all kinds of other feelings, that make him a typical Human being like a typical Indian, a typical Italian, or a typical Englishman, are formed during infancy, in virtue of that mysterious mental power that psychologists have called “Mneme”.
It is with the combination of this powerful memory and the vital force, that the child experience’s the environment and imbibes the attitudes for life, which result in his regeneration through different stages of development. Dr Montessori said “Man unlike the animals, is not born with movements already co-ordinated; he has to shape and co-ordinate his own movements. Nor has he even a predetermined aim; this too, must find for himself” (The Absorbent Mind, Chp 7, Page 77). The child has to self construct and learn from his environment, through various planes of development, happening in his life at different ages. Dr Montessori defined 04 main panes of development, from the birth to 24 yrs of age, each lasting for 6 yrs.
“Children are motivated from within. The child has within him the person he will become, and it is our role as nurturing adults to encourage the process of the child’s self-construction” (http://www.pcmontessori.org/about/montessori.php). Therefore, the child has to develop his own powers for reacting to life. Dr Montessori identified two aids one is internal aids and external aids that help the child to develop, of which the internal aids are sensitive period and the absorbent mind.
She narrates that, children have the ability and passion to excel at certain activities at specific periods of time in their life, which disappears after the passage of that specific interval of time in the child’s life. She adds that, during such a period the child is endowed with special sensibility, which urges the child to focus attention only on certain aspects of environment, excluding others. Sensitive periods are those blocks of time, when the child is absorbed in only one characteristic of his environment, excluding other. Sensitive periods are active between 0-6 yrs of age.
There are six sensitive periods defined namely (1) Sensitive to order, (2) Learning through their five senses, (3) Sensitivity to small objects, (4) Sensitivity to co-ordination of movement, (5) Sensitivity to language, (6) Sensitivity to social aspect of life. “The baby has a creative aptitude, a potential energy that will enable it to build up a mental world from the world about it” (The Secret of Childhood, Chp 3, Page 33). This the child learns through the sensitive periods, which follow each other and are overlapping as well. While above periods describe the pattern the child learns in gaining knowledge of his environment, the absorbent explains the process of the knowledge gained from this learning.
The absorbent mind is divided into the un-conscious (0-3yrs) and conscious mind (3-6yrs). In the un-conscious mind, the child absorbs from the environment, and therefore, there is a great requirement to make the environment as interesting and striking for the child, which helps the child to create his own impressions about the environment and develop the idea of analyses and reasoning on the basis of these impressions.
The conscious mind follows the unconscious mind and takes all the inputs from the preceding un-conscious mind, for development of his mental functions, with the help of already established power of memory, analyses and reasoning. With the conscious mind, the child has an established will and memory, which he uses for further self construction. The child at this stage is able to write, read, understand numbers etc., Dr Montessori defines some laws ofdevelopment, which actually reveals the kind of experiments she had carried out and clearly defines the requirements for the child to learn different things at different stages of development. There are eight laws of development which unfold over a course of time.
They are: (1) Law of Work: The child, when given work in a prepared environment, with any kind of behaviour, yields to the learning mode and gives up any kind of aggressive behaviour. This in turn shapes his personality and existence which come face to face in the prepared environment. (2) Law of Independence: When provided with independence, the child strives to listen to its inner guide for actions and this helps in his innate development. (3) Power of Attention: At a certain stage of development, the child becomes sensitive to his environment with great intensity and an interest not seen before. When a child works, he develops his ability to concentrate which replaces his instinctive interest with intellectual interest, this leads to the child becoming calmer and controlled. (4) Development of Will: The child, through repeated work, slowly establishes his will. Dr. Montessori observed three stages of this Will development.
First, as the child repeats his work many times over a period of time, he gains power over his own movements. The child then moves to the second stage that is accepting self discipline as a way of life. After achieving self- discipline as a way of life, the child reaches the third stage of the developed will involving the power to obey. (5) Development of Intelligence: For a child, development of intelligence through the comparison and differentiation of the already learnt attributes of the environment and this is the key to understanding life itself.
It helps to put the images of consciousness in order. (6) Development of Imagination and Creativity: Dr. Montessori believed that development of the powers of imagination and creativity develops as mental capacities are established through the interactions with the environment. She believed that when the child has developed realistic and ordered perception of is environment, he capable of selecting and emphasising process necessary for creative endeavours. (7)
Development of Emotional and Spiritual life: The child possesses within him at birth the senses that respond to his emotional side to the spiritual environment, due to which he learns he receives emotional and spiritual stimuli from all personnel whom he is close to. “A sensitive period is at work, a divine command is breathing through helplessthings, animating them with the spirit”(The Secret of Childhood, Chp 3, Page 38). Dr Montessori maintained that development has to be accompanied with constant spirit for achieving greater heights.
Dr Montessori named environment and freedom as the external aids of self construction, this she advised teachers to make changes to the environment to accommodate the requirements of the child, to be able to nourish the requirements of the child. Since, at all times the child is interacting with its environment, it is highly mandatory to maintain the environment to provide best opportunity for the child to learn. “Every object must have a definite place, where it is kept, and where it remains, when it is not in use” (The discovery of the Child, Chp 17, Page 182). Since all objects form the central part of the environment, it is required that the environment is not be disturbed for the child to learn from it. Freedom for a child provides an opportunity to express himself which in turn helps to grow the developed pattern resulting in the overall child’s growth. This freedom and prepared environment leads to normalisation in children.
The teacher involved in this method of teaching has to provide the freedom and ensure that the environment is created for the child to avail every opportunity to learn, with all the freedom to learn things. According to Dr Montessori, there should be balance created between the mind and body of the child, to work in agreement and harmony and this will create normalised children, else there would be deviations in the child. Dr Montessori has classified deviated psyches into fugue, barriers, attachment, possessiveness, inferiority, fear and lies.
Each of these category, has strong different reasons behind them, which encompasses the environment the child has been brought up in, how the child was treated in its childhood etc., Dr Montessori has framed different methods and advises for teachers in dealing with these children. Dr Montessori emphasises that normalised children are the result of freedom and ideal environment provided to the children, which will result in cohesion of children, due to the developed respect for others, helping nature, harmonious mind. Also qualities of co-operation, discipline, social sentiment, obedience and character are developed by child that will lead in the making of a better society and better human kind.
“The teacher, when she begins work in our schools, must have kind of faith that the child will reveal himself” (The Absorbent Mind, Chp 27, Page 287). Dr Montessori, places huge responsibility on the teacher, of that of creating a conducive environment for child with all freedom and required observation prowess, to assess and correct the child. Dr Montessori wants the teacher to have infinite faith in the child that the child will blossom into a flower with its own colour, shape, size and fragrance. “they who know the most Must mourn the deepest o’er the fatal truth.
The tree of Knowledge is not that of Life” (Maria Montessori- Her Life and Work, Chp 21,Page 368). These words were from Bryon’s Manfred. EM Standing, author of ‘Maria Montessori – Her Life and Work’, describes the need for completing the idea of Dr Montessori ‘Education for life’ through dissemination of Montessori Method of learning in creating harmonious children and greater future which is at peace with each other and with the environment.
Dr. Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood, Orient Black Swan, India Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, Kalakshetra Press, India Dr. Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child, Kalakshetra Press, India EM Standing, Maria Montessori – Her Life and Work, Penguin Putnam Inc, New York http://www.pcmontessori.org/about/montessori.php