Maria Montessori’s years of research revealed that the first six years of a child’s quest for knowledge are characterized not by ordinary curiosity, but by an acute need to learn and to explore. She observed that at specific periods in a child’s life, which she called “sensitive periods” that need becomes particularly intense for specific types of learning. Further, she discovered that, while all children initially exhibit a natural joy and love in discovery and work, the amazing powers of their absorbent mind will just as easily absorb frustration, distaste and apathy if their first attempts to explore are consistently met with obstacles.
Montessori’s research culminated in a vision of a series of special environments that would preserve that joyful regard for learning, by supporting and fulfilling at each stage of a child’s development his specific needs and tendencies. By scaling the environment to his size and carefully selecting the objects which would be placed in it, she eliminated the need to “protect” and instead encouraged the child in his exploration. In her vision, a school was not a building with four walls in which to enclose and confine a child, but a home wherein a child could be his own master, a world which would affirm his need to experiment, create and grow.
The child’s surroundings and the adult who acts as a guide to them, play roles of utmost importance. They must not be chosen arbitrarily. Everything from the positioning of pictures on the wall to the selection of a tray for a pouring exercise has been carefully structured to aid the child’s quest toward self-realization, according to his specific needs and tendencies at various stages of his development. Specially prepared and loving individuals must be sought to guide the child on his journey. Therefore it is helpful to understand Montessori’s research, the importance of the prepared environment, the role of the adult in that environment, and the development which occurs during the first six years of life.