Dr. Montessori believed that learning is accomplished by the individual himself. The child learns by means of the materials and his own active experience with them. He also learns from others in the environment. Each Montessori classroom has an age range of three years, which allows older children to teach the younger ones and provides the younger ones with a model for future learning. The teacher prepares the environment and gives the child lessons on how the materials are used, guiding the child through a progression of the activities in each curriculum area of the environment. Given the necessary minimum of stimulating interest in the materials, the child begins to manipulate, discover, and learn for himself.
Exposure to the physically and mentally prepared environment causes a balancing of behavior to develop. As the child becomes absorbed in meaningful work that he chooses himself and which thus meets his needs, he works with continued concentration and inner satisfaction. When we see this in a single child, we call it inner discipline. When we see it in a whole classroom, we call it normalization. It is truly impressive to see children working together peacefully, helping each other, sharing and caring for one another.
“The hand is the chief teacher of the child,” said Dr. Montessori. Montessori classrooms are the epitome of the “hands on” experience for the child. Children learn best by doing, and Dr. Montessori’s didactic materials are designed to achieve sensory, motor, and intellectual development through a graduated system of learning in which children master simple, concrete concepts before progressing to the abstract. This can be seen in the classroom in several ways. Within the curriculum areas of the environment, children begin in the concrete areas of practical life and sensorial, and progress to the more abstract areas of math and language; within each curriculum area of the classroom, the children begin with the most simple lessons, and progress to the most difficult; and for each piece of material, there often is a simple and a more complex version of use. Many of the materials isolate one fundamental quality, such as color or dimension, so that the child learns to discriminate individual qualities in an object. Many of the materials are self-correcting, which provides the child with a control of error so they see their mistakes and are able to correct them without being afraid of making a mistake. Many of the materials are for self-discovery and do not require a lesson from the teacher; this encourages children to become independent of adults in seeking knowledge. Children have the freedom to choose and repeat any lesson they have been given, which allows them to satisfy their own desire to learn.