Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952), was the first woman physician in Italy. She developed a method of teaching based on discoveries she made during her many years of work with children. These insights led this great educator to some conclusions which changed the course of modern education.
She concluded that the first six years of life are the most vital to human development. Children are born with minds that absorb effortlessly until they reach six years of age. Never again in life does this quality of the mind return. Dr. Montessori found that young children pass through 'sensitive periods'. These are inner impulses which guide children to become extraordinarily interested in certain elements in the environment at very specific times. Children become so involved in activities aroused by the sensitive period that long periods of involvement sustained by it do not cause tiredness but the opposite, a feeling of self-fulfillment. That is why, in a Montessori classroom, the children's activities are called 'work' rather than 'play'.
In a Montessori classroom, the children are allowed to follow their own drives and to work with the learning materials of their choice. These materials are of great importance to the method. The materials are scientific pieces of apparatus designed to help the child's mind focus on some particular quality. The materials are concrete, allowing the children to see and touch, not just memorize information.
In the Montessori programme, the children create for themselves the ability to operate in the world. They use their energy creatively. Creativity is not limited to art and music, but is essential to the whole curriculum.
The Montessori method functions without the confines of a traditionally structured classroom. The child will often find children older, younger and the same age as himself, providing for further development of freedom and responsibility. The Montessori method allows each child to progress individually according to their ability. They are not bound by chronological age but can move through the program at their own pace, advancing in areas of strength but continuing reinforcement in others.