At the heart of Montessori pedagogy is the child; the programme begins with the needs of the child. Every being, both animate and inanimate which exists, exists for a purpose. Respect for the child is very important.
The aim of upbringing is to provide an education which enables everyone to find their role, their place, their goal and to provide the opportunity to achieve this.
The anthropological understanding of a child leads to the offering of partnership help for self-development – "thinking about the child him/herself" – about his/her own genetically determined programme of development, which does not have clear boundaries. The child grows in an environment which is exemplified by his/her possibilities and which, within clear boundaries, enables free development.
Up to three years of age, the child unconsciously absorbs what it intensively experiences in his/her environment. The child picks up those types of behaviour which are necessary to him/her to survive and build him/herself up. The tendency is towards independence and self-sufficiency. The important things are going through and gaining early experiences. For this, an environment where the child is accepted, where he/she feels understood, which offers warmth and love and offers support for development are essential. Upbringing is not teaching, but support for physical and mental development. The child, with its senses, unconsciously absorbs signal from his/her environment – without limitations, tiredness or any particular choice.
From 3 to 6 years of age, the child's conscious absorbent mind is typified by the phenomena of awareness, will, language improvement and the appearance of skills. The child shows a conscious "hunger for knowledge and improvement of complex skills".
This is a gradual and slow process. Mental development is understood as an extension of biological development and is governed by the same laws of development; the environment provides "food" for the development of mental structures.
Dutch researcher De Vries discovered the periods of particular sensitivity to certain types of support; Maria Montessori applied this knowledge in educating children. It is genetically determined, and is an internal process in which drives encourage the child towards certain activity. We find these periods in the early stages of development; they are limited to the development of certain capabilities; they allow the Montessori teacher to notice the events happening inside the child.
These events happen at a particular time period. If the child is then held back, he/she will always lose the possibility of creating the optimal development of some of these abilities. The child learns with ease, joy, will and delight. The internal sensitivity is what leads the child towards CHOICE in different environments, of what is necessary for his/her development, by making him/her sensitive to some things and indifferent to others.
Sensitivity to order: this appears in the first and second years of life
Natural law allows the child to build up its own internal order. The child learns that everything in the outside world has a reason for existing and has its own place in space. The child, through his/her senses, receives pictures of the outside world and classifies and orders it.
Sensitivity to order means:
Sensitivity for dexterity of movement – need for movement
The child improves his/her ability to walk "by walking" – he/she starts to walk because of an insatiable internal powerful impulse. The child walks in order to develop his/her functions; he/she does not have a goal, and is attracted by the things he/she is surrounded by. Movement is connected to development of intelligence. In order for the child to collect important elements for his/her first mental constructions, he/she needs to move and carry out activity with his/her hands with objects in the relevant environment.
Sensitivity for spotting small parts of a whole:
In his/her second year, a child is attracted to small objects; he/she takes the object, lifts it up, looks at it – it is his/her attempt to understand and work out the world; the child concentrates on the details of a certain whole.
Sensitivity to development of senses: the necessity of finding out
The child is an observer who actively records pictures of his/her environment through the senses. The child is an active being in whom the senses are active, absorbing images and feeling an insatiable attraction to light, to vivid colours and to noises. It is necessary to provide the child with an environment in which he/she will practice and improve sensory capabilities.
Adults must observe and follow the needs of the child:- they should introduce as few changes as possible into the environment of young children and their daily routine, apply correct speech and behaviour, allow free movement and enable the child to gain experience – in all, to do everything so that the child makes the most of the period of special sensitivity.
Movement is not understood as gymnastics, but as a philosophy of movement. All children want to learn. A child is an active being – he/she learns through his/her senses. The child needs to see things not only with his/her eyes, but also with his/her hands, to smell them, to touch them and prod them. Education of the senses is the foundation of Montessori pedagogy on which a child's physical and mental development is based. Education of the senses is based on correct coordination of movement of fine and gross motor skills during activities. Movement is an elementary need of the child, which needs to be met while the programme is being completed. In the Montessori kindergarten, children freely move around, the child chooses his/her own place to work and the things to do, the child moves when he/she brings or puts back the materials, and when he/she is practicing movements.
"Help me to do it on my own" – the principle of independence is, according to Maria Montessori, seen in the natural yearning of the child to be as independent as possible during his/her development: "self-sufficiency is necessary for the child to be able to follow his/her own inner drive for activities which will be useful to him/her." The feeling of self-sufficiency is directly linked to success in the family, in kindergarten, school and life. Montessori teachers support the development of self-sufficiency from their secondary role: they reject an overly possessive or protective attitude towards the child and wait for the child to come to them when he/she needs to, and do not lay down rules authoritatively. Teachers are not overly lenient in their attitude.