Maria Montessori believed that in order for the world to become a more peaceful and more civilized society for people to live in, the new generations must be taught to live in harmony and their hidden potential must be developed to the fullest. She believed that the only way to do it was through education. However, there was a need for the old educational system to be reformed as it was too teacher-centered, so it would not be able to maximize the potential in each child. The traditional system also did not prepare the child for life in society as the activities did not teach the child to work in collaboration with others, neither did it teach the child important skills such as concentration, responsibility and perseverance. She felt that the teacher’s job should be that of an observer; alert to the needs of the child and ready to react appropriately as “any form of education must be based on the personality of man”. (Absorbent Mind, Chapter 1, p. 8) As such, there arises a ‘new education’ system which proves to be effective all around the world even till today.
In addition to imparting knowledge to the children, Montessori felt that their physical and social development should also be taken into considerations. It is important that the teacher observe the children to find out what they need and thereby providing them with their needs. In other words, the teacher or parent should understand the learning style of the child and thereby pitching the lessons according to the child’s needs. She also believed that it should be part of education that a child is taught to be caring and compassionate towards others, but he must first be showered with care and concern himself. Thus, it is just as important to care about the hygiene and welfare of the child.
In this new education, Montessori described the importance of providing a child-centered and conducive learning environment. She stressed that there are differences between the learning objectives and methodologies between a child and an adult, thus they should not be taught in the same way or even use the same furniture. An adult is concerned with the end result of the task at hand; therefore, he tends to rush in order to finish the job quickly. He would not repeat the same task numerous times in order to perfect it.
On the other hand, a child differs from an adult in that he is still developing and constantly learning, thus he needs to interact with his environment to absorb information for his own development. He has what Montessori describes as an absorbent mind. A child will be able to absorb the specific skills that he needs to learn through repeated activities. He needs to make use of his environment and carry out repeated work to develop his personality, habits and physical being, so he will do a task numerous times in order to perfect it. Montessori believed that each child is a different individual, so he will have his own sensitive periods to absorb different skills perfectly. This new education allows each child to set his own pace for learning as he is free to select the materials that he wishes to work on. Multi-sensory materials are used in these classrooms for the children’s hands-on activities and they get to progress from the simple to abstract concepts without any pressure from the teacher. The child is led to experience a sense of accomplishment as he discovers the skills on his own.
During each sensitive period, a different skill is learned and after the skill is perfected, the child will naturally drop the activity and proceed on to something else. With the traditional education system, the child is forced to perform the task that the teacher has assigned. He would then be deprived of the freedom to learn or perfect the skill that he desired to during that sensitive period. Therefore, Montessori believed that it is more important for the teacher in the new education system to “discover the potentialities of each of the students and of offering him means and motives which could awaken his latent energies so that he might continue to use, expand, and coordinate them through proper exercise”. (Discovery of the Child, Chapter 2, p. 33) She believed that it is more important for the teacher to be an observer in the classroom and that the teacher should prepare the lessons and materials to suit the learning ability of the individual child. In this way, the child’s self-confidence is built up as the teacher is neither demoralizing nor judgmental. Similarly, if the parents are willing to assist the child by teaching him through the use of a method most suited to his learning style instead of forcing him, the child will be able to excel in every way. Parents must believe that every child is capable of learning.
In Montessori’s new education, she showed that it is important that “a school allows a child’s activities to freely develop”. (Discovery of the Child, Chapter 1, p. 9) However, this would be difficult with the use of the rigid furniture in the traditional classroom. Besides restricting the students’ movements as they were not allowed to move about to change the materials that they would like to work on or to move the furniture around independently, Montessori felt that these furniture also hindered the proper development of the children’s spinal cord because the children were forced to remain in the same position at the desk for hours. Instead, she advocated the use of child size furniture and floor mats in the Montessori classroom. Such furniture are not so intimidating and the children can have the freedom to move around independently when they need to.