Montessori for Young Children
Dr. Montessori believed that the brains of young children work differently from that of adults. She referred to the time from birth to 6 years old as the “Absorbent Mind.” During this period of the absorbent mind, young children are capable of absorbing immense amounts of information about the environment through their senses. A child’s mind acts like a sponge, soaking up knowledge.
During the absorbent mind period, the child passes through a succession of stages or epochs, defined as the "Sensitive Periods." A sensitive period may be compared to a ray of interest – like a searchlight coming from the child's mind – which lights up certain topics and focuses intently on objects in the environment relevant to that area of sensitivity but pays less attention to other objects. This is similar to how a thirsty child will seek out water rather than food or toys.
While it is there, it enables him to absorb those things with astonishing ease and power. However, a sensitive period is a transitory phenomenon, lasting just long enough for the child to establish certain acquisitions and skills. Then it passes – never to return – giving place to another, which is succeeded by the next, and so on.
For example, there is a period in which children are interested in learning how to perform precise movements or balance themselves. At this stage, they delight in carrying out such actions with increasing perfection. We've all seen children climb, balance, and walk alongside a piece of log or the edge of a sidewalk curb.
Montessori says if this perfecting movement is introduced at the critical moment (2 - 4 years old), it not only tends to the normal development of the mind but also affects the whole personality, bringing contentment, concentration, and inner nourishment. Whereas if these exercises are not given, and the perfection of movement is lacking by consequence, the personality develops out of balance, less happy, not so sure of itself, bearing defects which may increase in successive stages of growth.
Like "Dropped Stitches in Our Mental Life," if the child misses some of his sensitive periods during his development, he will still grow up into an adult. But most of us grown-ups are painfully aware that there have been many "dropped stitches" in our physical, mental, and social make-up. If only the right means had been forthcoming in our environment at the right time, we feel that we might not have grown up so awkward in our movements, or so bad at games, so unappreciative of music, so lacking in color sense, so ignorant of art, so bad at figures, so atrocious in our accent, so illegible in our handwriting, so shy in company, so dependent on others, so vacillating in our decisions, and so on and so forth. Montessori says, "Make the fullest use of your child's sensitive periods in the absorbent Mind. In other words, "TAKE THE TIDE AT THE FLOOD."
B. MONTESSORI PREPARED ENVIRONMENT
The important thing is that no matter how absorbent the child's mind may be, ultimately, it cannot absorb what is not there. Therefore, Montessori education endeavors to develop the "Prepared Environment" that helps make the fullest use of the child's absorbent mind. In the Prepared Environment, the child is encouraged to explore Montessori Didactic Materials to meet the needs in each sensitive period at each developmental stage of the child. The Montessori environment is prepared in the following areas.
Maria Montessori considered practical life activities, also called exercises of Practical Life, to be fundamental to a child’s development. An essential part of the Montessori method and often referred to as the heart of Montessori education, these activities are an increasingly challenging series of motor tasks involving practical, real-life goals, such as cleaning a table, washing a plate, or polishing shoes. In addition to helping children master everyday tasks, Practical Life activities aim to: (OCCI)
Develop their sense of order.
Develop their body control, coordination of movement, and hand-eye coordination.
Improve their ability to concentrate.
Increase their independence.
Types of Practical Life Activities include:
1. Preliminary Activities and Body Movement Activities to develop children’s gross motor coordination & control and fine motor coordination & control.
2. Care of Self Activities to assist children in becoming physically independent and able to care for themselves because children in the 3-6 age group are beginning to assert their independence and have a strong need to complete tasks on their own.
3. Care of Environment Activities to encourage children to care for and respect their environment.
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