By Elizabeth Stepankiw
Dr. Montessori didn’t have the means to test her theories of human development in the way we do today. She had no MRI’s, CAT scans, or rats in labs. She did have incredible powers of observation— her genius was in her ability to understand the principles of human development from her observations.
She defined some basic ideas about child development and how to maximize the human potential of our children and tested them out in specially designed classrooms.
She concluded that: the environment plays a pivotal role in human growth, learning is self- driven/directed, we learn to concentrate when we are working toward mastery, repetition is how we learn (the brain is like a muscle), we all want to belong to a group and learn by modeling after those in our group, and we all go through what she called sensitive periods in our learning-times where we are primed for certain types of learning in a way that we will never experience again.
All of these basic principles have become part of accepted brain science today after years of studies and research.
Dr. Montessori urged the teacher to be a scientist/observer in her classrooms. She called teachers directors to better define the role of the teacher in the children’s houses (her term for schools).
Today, Montessori teachers spend many hours preparing a Montessori classroom before the children ever arrive. Materials are carefully sequenced to follow a logical order and furniture is carefully chosen and arranged to beckon the child towards active learning experiences. Attention is paid to the social order and mix of the class and record-keeping is designed to support and respect the child’s learning.
After all the preparations, teachers will observe the children and direct them to the learning experiences that fit the needs of each individual child. The teacher’s role is to look for something called the “match” where the child’s activity and needs at that moment coincide.
Rather than filling “empty vessels”, as teachers do in a traditional role, the Montessori teacher seeks to help students develop from their own innate learning powers and drives. The child is the central figure and the teacher is there to act as a guide and a help in what we know today is the inborn human urge to grow and learn.