Akron Montessori School’s Primary Program serves children ages 2 1/2 to 5 in a stimulating prepared environment. It includes both preschool and kindergarten.
—Closing sentence of The Montessori Method (1912), by Maria Montessori
The most important period of a child's mental development is from birth to six years of age. Dr. Maria Montessori referred to this time as the period of the “absorbent mind” because during this time the child has a phenomenal capacity for absorbing knowledge, developing vocabulary, and learning various skills. How effectively the child uses this capacity is greatly affected by the environment in which she grows. Most of the learning that the child does during this age requires no conscious effort. For example, reflect, for a moment, on how a child learns to talk. Nobody sits with an infant to teach her to talk. The child just picks it up by listening, imitating, and practicing. The language spoken at home becomes the child's language. In the course of learning her language, the child, without any coaching from adults, keeps on asking the names of everything she sees around her. Once the names are given they are absorbed by her mind. This is a universal phenomenon. How wonderful it would be if these abilities and interests would last forever! Unfortunately, this is not the case. The child's ability to acquire knowledge in this manner lasts only until she reaches about six years of age. After that the child starts learning by using her reasoning ability. Often adults must make an effort to get the child to learn skills, like reading, that she would have picked up spontaneously during the early years.
The Montessori classroom is a carefully prepared environment that presents a collection of materials and activities that address the needs of growing young minds. From age 2½ to 6, the child's most frequently asked questions are "What is this?" or "What is that?" These inquiries set the stage for the elementary years, when the child will begin using his reasoning ability to ask the question “Why?” There are materials used for the physical development of the senses as well as materials that makes it possible for the child to experience, through her senses, abstract concepts in language, math, geometry, geography and biology. The classroom is also furnished with materials and activities that enable the child to practice and master day-to-day activities. The room invites activity. Children from 2½ to 6 years of age work together in the classroom. The prepared environment is designed to allow children to independently choose activities (after the initial presentation) without the help of an adult. The child has complete freedom to work without interruption and also to repeat an activity as often as he or she desires. The adult guide (teacher) in the environment carefully observes the child and presents new materials and activities to the child to guide her through the curriculum. The child learns to stay focused on activities. The nature of the materials ensures that a child can recognize and correct his/her own mistakes and that an activity can be repeated until the child is satisfied.
At the same time that he is learning on his own, the child is also encouraged to develop cooperative social skills. The classroom community, which consists of children of different ages and skill levels working in the same room together, promotes this aspect of development. The children are given the opportunity to learn from one another and also to learn to respect each other. They are neither graded nor compared against one another. Each child progresses according to his unique pace and the nature of the environment helps the child to gain self-confidence and achieve a sense of independence.
As both the psychological and educational director of the classroom, the Montessori teacher responds to the needs of the children only after careful observation. She introduces materials in the environment to each child according to his needs and encourages him to repeat the activities to reinforce the knowledge gained. She is trained to recognize when to intervene so that the child's concentration and involvement with the work are encouraged and not interrupted.