The children need freedom to explore the materials without ‘interruptions. Just as adults dislike distractions when involved in a task, children prefer to complete their activities without distractions. In the Montessori environment, they develop their ability to focus their attention. Without unnecessary interruptions, their attention span increases and they develop concentration skills. Before children spontaneously share, they must feel free not to share. In the Montessori environment, the adults protect the right to explore an activity by themselves at their own pace. Sharing evolves naturally from the classroom experience. When they desire, they share by communicating and helping others. The sharing is natural and spontaneous because it comes from within the child, rather than being forced arbitrary by an adult.
The children are free to explore the environment and interpersonal relationships in constructive ways and within limits. The underlying theme is respect; the adult respects the individuality of each child, the children learn that others have needs and fights, and that they must respect those needs and rights, the children are free to explore only so long as their explorations do not include actions that hurt or disturb any other child. The children learn that what is good for the group is acceptable and what is not good for the group is unacceptable.
Group activities are included in the Montessori curriculum. The class gathers into groups at the beginning, at movement time, at lunch time and at the end of the day. During group activities the children’s interest and attention is focused on a specific topic and communication relates to the task. Group activities help develop listening skills and confidence to speak in groups, but children need something else to develop social skills.
Group activities have limitations as they do not encourage spontaneous interactions among children. The Montessori program provides activities that encourage communication and sharing that is spontaneous, personal and pertinent to what is happening in their lives.
Children learn from each other. When children are grouped by age, the range of capabilities is considerably smaller than when several ages are grouped together. The young children learn academic and social skills from observing their older classmates. The older children learn patience, tolerance and leadership skills from their younger classmates. Our society is not segmented into age groups. As adults we have friends and acquaintances of many different ages. The Montessori classroom reflects our society with a mixture of ages.
Maria Montessori first worked with retarded children. By using her materials, these children surpassed “normal” children in many areas, thus finding Montessori to question the teaching techniques in traditional schools, and prompted her to open classrooms for “normal” children. She saw patterns of learning that transcended intelligence and other personal characteristics. As a result, she designed activities that are appropriate for a broad range of children.
Our goal is to prepare children for life’s experiences. We prepare them in the academic area so that most children enter first grade reading or on the brink of reading. They have a firm understanding of the concept of numbers and the decimal system. Their abilities to organize themselves and to solve problems are excellent. Their listening skills and their abilities to respect others and participate in the community are remarkable. Their confidence and communication skills are very high. Most importantly of all, they love school and learning, and have positive feelings about themselves. These qualities are assets in any setting.