Montessori Early Childhood Education: The Foundation of the Method

Education, therefore, of little ones is important, especially from three to six years of age, because this is the embryonic period for the formation of character and of society, (just as the period from birth to three is that for forming the mind, and the prenatal period that for forming the body).
—Maria Montessori
The Absorbent Mind, p. 221–222.

Where does the Montessori method begin? In The Absorbent Mind, Dr. Montessori tells us that “The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth.” (p. 4) But, Dr. Montessori did not begin developing her method with infants. She began with children who were between 3 and 6 years old.

In the early 1900s, working parents had little choice when it came to childcare. Children who were 7 years old went to school. This meant that children 6 years and younger were left alone, caring for younger children for 8–10 hours each day. Montessori’s first school, the Casa dei Bambini, in the slums of San Lorenzo, proved to have horrendous conditions. It was home to over 50 children, ages 2–6, with only one other adult present. The impoverished children were hungry, dirty, and unruly.

Having worked earlier with children with special needs, Dr. Montessori was convinced that with her methods, these children would thrive.

Montessori Early Childhood Education: The Foundation of the Method

Under Dr. Montessori’s supervision, the children were bathed and fed nutritious meals regularly. Starting with the oldest children, she began introducing the materials and puzzles she had developed when working with special needs children at the Orthophrenic school. She also began giving lessons in practical life activities such as cleaning, dressing, setting a table, and serving food.

As the children learned to take care of themselves and others, they became more focused, respectful, and independent. They soon wanted to learn more and clamored to learn to read and write. At that time, it was thought that children under the age of 7 were incapable of learning. However, Dr. Montessori not only encouraged them to learn, she developed learning tools to guide the children through a series of sequential steps in the form of conceptualized, hands-on materialized abstractions.

Through her work with children in the second half of the first plane of development (ages 3–6), Dr. Montessori was able to observe the unconscious mind unfold. “So, from the age of three till six, being able to now to tackle his environment deliberately and consciously, he begins a period of real constructiveness.” (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, pg. 152) Through scientific observation, Montessori followed the lead of the children, trusting in their natural instincts and abilities to learn and grow without adult interference. She watched as the children used her didactic materials to teach themselves and to then turn around and teach their peers. This is the time of conscious construction. The child, in these three years, constructs the adult he is to become.

Infants function on instinct. They are driven from within to develop and grow. Elementary children direct their curiosity outside themselves into the society and world around them. The 3–6 year old’s curiosity develops his character and personality, giving us a glimpse of the adult he is to become.

For this reason, the 3–6 curriculum is the foundation of the Montessori method, serving as a catalyst to understanding learning in both the earlier and later years.

Works Cited
Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Clio Montessori Series. England: ABC-Clio Limited, 1988 (first published in 1949).

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate


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