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Dr. Montessori believed that no human being is educated by another. He must do it himself or it will never be done. A truly educated individual continues learning long after the hours and years spent in the classroom because the motivation comes from within by a natural curiosity and love of knowledge. Dr. Montessori felt, therefore, that the goal of early childhood education should not be to fill the child with facts from a pre-selected course of studies, but rather to cultivate the natural desire to learn. This is done by allowing each child to experience the excitement of learning by her own choice rather than by a course selected for the whole group. The child is also allowed to perfect himself before he is asked to move on, learning at his pace rather than at the pace of the group.

Use of the materials in the class is based on the young child’s unique aptitude for learning, which Dr. Montessori identified as the “absorbent mind”. She frequently compared the young mind to a sponge that literally absorbs information from the environment. The child retains this ability to learn by absorbing until he is around the age of seven. A child can learn to read, write, and calculate in the same natural way that he learns to walk and talk. In a Montessori classroom the equipment invites the child to do this when she is most interested, during her unique “sensitive periods”.

Dr. Montessori wrote, “The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six. For that is the time when man’s intelligence itself, his greatest implement, is being formed. But not only his intelligence; the full totality of his psychic power. . . At no other age has the child greater need of intelligent help, and any obstacle that impedes his creative work will lessen the chance he has of achieving perfection.” Modern psychological studies have confirmed her theories. From conception to age four, the individual develops 50% of its mature intelligence; from ages four to eight it develops another 30%. This suggests that the environment will have the maximum impact on a specific trait during that trait’s period of most rapid growth.

As high-achieving adults, we want to control every aspect of our child’s development. It’s hard for us to stand back and allow our children the space they need to grow in the pattern that is unique for them. But we must do this. The best we can do is create the environment, and then enjoy the miracle of each emerging personality.