Montessori, in her initial work in 1907 role in the mental development of the child San Lorenzo, observed that the younger children were intensely attracted to sensory development apparatus. The children used these materials spontaneously, independently, repeatedly and with deep concentration. They emerged from this spontaneous activity renewed and with a profound sense of inner satisfaction.
The Montessori learning environment is much different than the traditional model. Instead of information passing from the teacher to the student, the teacher is skilled in putting the child in touch with the environment, and helping him learn to make intelligent choices and to carry out research in a prepared environment. The teacher then protects the student’s concentration from interruption. This fosters a love of lifetime learning in the student. Just as anyone can use the word “Montessori” to describe schools and training centers, they can and do use the name to describe toys and materials that often have nothing to do with Montessori. There are some “Montessori” products that further the understanding of Montessori especially for parents at home.
As far as the “didactic” or teaching materials in Montessori schools, there is an international committee that has overseen the production of such things as the sensorial materials for many years. An impulsive or artistic change in the production, that can result in a breakdown of the success of the method, is then avoided. A sparse environment of carefully chosen materials calls the child to work, concentration, and joy. A crowded or chaotic environment can cause stress and can dissipate a child’s energy. As Montessori education becomes more popular more materials are produced which are labeled “Montessori” and one must be more and more careful in selection.
Too many materials, or inappropriate materials can be worse than too few. The toys and materials in the home and school for this period of development should be of the very best quality to call forth self-respect, respect and care from the child toward the environment, and the development of an appreciation of beauty. Age Six to Twelve: From age six to twelve, “the age of the Imagination,” the children produce so much — charts, models, books, timelines, maps, books, plays, etc. Sensorial-manipulative materials, such as multiplication bead frames, can also be used for older children, but should be left behind as soon as the child is ready to work in the abstract. From age twelve to eighteen, the child’s education becomes more traditional: books, computers, and the tools of the place where he may be apprenticing or doing social work. This is transition to adult life during which time the child learns to function in the real world. The environment now includes the farm, the public library, the work place, the large community.
At all ages, since the adult’s special interests usually lie in one or two areas of study, we must be sure to introduce him to materials and lessons in all areas, all kinds of experiences, and not limit him to our own interests. In the words of the famous music educator Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, “What does not exist in the cultural environment will not develop in the child. Many families are using Montessori principles at homes to provide to provide supportive environments for infants, to supplement the Montessori or other schooling of their children, to make their school studies more vibrant, to teach independence, or sometimes even to completely homeschool their children.