That’s what a friend asked the other day. Here is my response:
It’s called the ‘on’ button! Yes, here goes: Montessori Method is the studying human development from birth (and even before) through about the age of 24. It only ends there because Dr. Montessori didn’t really study beyond that age. Besides, she was more interested in the first stages of life (birth -6) where most development takes place.
The first part: So Montessori realized that there a definable periods of growth that a child goes through not just his body but the mind too. The stages are specific and each stage has characteristics that sort of define it. Here they are: birth to about age 6, absorbent mind stage. The person is sensitive (to an extreme, by comparison to how an adult mind works) to language, movement, order and his senses. And it’s obvious from a mother’s point of view, I think! We hear the phrase, “Don’t they grow up quickly!” because in fact, that exactly what the little guy is doing. Second Stage (what I’m studying now) from about 6 through age 12. These folks are sensitive to the moral order ( I think the Church is so wise to send her little ones to confession around this age and get 1st Communion), acquisition of culture, (make sure its good culture) and creative use of their imagination (keep trash like Harry Potter in the trash can and give them good books!). Then we move on to the adolescent stage (12-18), which I know about because not very long ago I was one; but the child at this age is sort of coming into his own in the wider world and finding his place in it. Finally, the last stage is 18-24 where we should have a fully functioning adult on the scene ready to take his place in society. This is the time when most children go off to College and begin that ‘merging’ into the adult world. So those are the four stages of human development in a nutshell. We can see that growth of the mind (or even of the body) is not something linear, but comes in stages.
Each stage is sort of hard-wired by God to help the person develop into a full-functioning adult. We can also understand these stages as a sort of efficiency on the part of nature to help the child acquire all the skills necessary to be a functioning adult. A Montessorian has to know these stages and teach the subjects (think of the classical disciplines: geometry, math, natural science, etc.) according to the abilities of each stage.
That is the Montessori Method. A poetical summary: “To assist life unfolding.”
And since that wasn’t two minutes, you get more:
The second part: The job of a Montessorian is two-fold: to understand these stages of development and to know the subjects she is teaching. She should master the subjects so well that she is able to give the information to the child in a way that the child can best receive it. She should have complete mastery of the classical disciplines.
Which why I am in school now!
The stages of human development are nothing new to the world. The cave-man’s child and a baby born today have the process of development. What differs is our (the adults) ability to understand and assist the child through life, especially in the realm of culture. If we want our children to know and love the best when they grow up, then give them the best when they are children!
Maria Montessori also understood about a child’s relationship to God. This is why we have the Mass materials and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. But this last point is so profound and beautiful, I will make another post about it.