Dr. Maria Montessori, renowned child educator, was originally a medical doctor who brought the scientific methods of observation, experimentation, and research to the study of children, their development and education. As a doctor, Montessori came to believe that many of the problems of the children she was working with were educational rather than medical. In examining education she felt that children were not achieving their potential because education was not based on science. Her first step then, was to attempt to abandon preconceived ideas about education and to begin the study of children, their development and the process of learning through scientific methods of observation and experimentation. In doing so, she made what she considered to be a number of startling discoveries. Through her research, she discovered that children possessed different and higher quantities than those we usually attribute to them. Among these qualities are:

  • Amazing Mental Concentration:  Previously it was believed that children had short attention spans. Dr. Montessori was amazed to observe the length of time that very young children would choose to attend to tasks which interested them.
  • Love of Repetition: On their own, children would choose to practice things they were trying to master over and over again. For example, once a child decides to learn how to tie shoes, the child may tie and untie shoes many times, continuing the repetition until the task is mastered.
  • Love of Order: Children like a sense of order. If materials are set out for children in a orderly fashion, a child ‘s cognitive development will also absorb the order they are visually experiencing.
  • Freedom of Choice:  Children like to choose things they do. If materials are set out for children so that they have easy access to them, children will choose, take and replace them without the need for adult intervention.
  • Children Prefer to Play: One of the greatest surprises for Dr. Montessori was the discovery that children preferred work to play. Sometimes adults tend to think children only want to play and not to work. However, Dr. Montessori found that play was substitute for what children really wanted to do, but couldn’t. For example, children like to play “house.” They may pretend to cook, to bake pies, to clean house, etc. However, if given a choice, the children prefer to be in the real kitchen with mother and/or father learning how to prepare “real” food.
  • No need for Rewards and Punishment: Montessori discovered that children are intrinsically motivated to work. No one wants to be a problem. So, they do not need external rewards and punishments. What they do need is help. The adult can help the child by showing the child how to do what he or she is trying to accomplish. Accomplishment, competence, and being a contributing member of a society is rewarding in themselves.
  • The Children Refuse Sweets: Children often show an indifference to the allurements of sweets when placed in conflict with the interest of the mind.
  • Lovers of Silence: Whereas it is easy to think of children as noisy, Montessori discovered that children enjoy finding out how quiet they can be. The children like to listen to silence and to soft sounds. It is like a game to see if they can move a chair without making a sound.
  • Sense of Personal Dignity: Children have a deep sense of personal dignity just as adults do. They want to be capable and held in high regard. They want to be able to do things for themselves. They can get embarrassed and can feel ashamed. A child would rather tie their own shoes than have them tied for them.
  • Desire to Read and Write: In the beginning, Dr. Montessori didn’t believe that young children of four and five years of age should be involved in reading and writing. However, the children showed such interest that she provided some beginning materials. She was astonished by how the children seemed to “burst spontaneously” into writing and then reading if provided with the right materials.
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