Born on August 31, 1870, in the small town of Chiaravalle in eastern Italy, Maria Montessori was described from a very early age as having a powerful character with a strong sense of duty and an assertive nature. True to her convictions, Maria Montessori went on to graduate from medical school and become the first female physician in Italy's history. As a female, Dr. Montessori was not permitted to practice medicine in Italy's hospitals so she opened the very first casa de bambini or "children's house" in a poor quarter of the San Lorenzo tenements. It was there that she began to develop what would later become known as the Montessori approach to the education of young children.
"A child's work," wrote Maria Montessori, "is to create the man he will become. An adult works to perfect the environment, but a child works to perfect himself." The Montessori Method, based on careful observation of and respect for the natural development of the child, has become widely practiced in schools around the world for almost a century. Dr. Montessori recognized that a child is more responsive to certain learning experiences at particular times or "sensitive periods." Careful observation allows the Montessori-trained teacher to identify these sensitive periods when a child is ready for a new learning experience. The teacher then can direct the child toward materials that will satisfy his/her development needs. "It is true we cannot make a genius," Dr. Montessori wrote. "We can only give each individual the chance to fulfill his potential to become an independent, secure and balanced human being."
"The hands," wrote Dr. Maria Montessori, "are the instrument of man's intelligence." From two to six years of age, children are in the period that she referred to as the Absorbent Mind. During this time, children form their personality and self. Mind, memory, power to understand, and ability to think through impressions gained from the environment are all constructed during this time.
In addition to absorbing the surroundings through the five senses, primary-aged children are more responsive to certain learning experiences at particular times. Dr. Maria Montessori identified these times as Sensitive Periods, after which the opportunity for maximizing development is lost. During these Sensitive Periods learning is most thorough, concentration most intense, and enthusiasm is at its richest. Children pursue, with endless repetition, activities which are of interest to them. Dr. Montessori identified Sensitive Periods for language acquisition, order, detail, sensorial exploration, writing, words, numbers, manners and courtesy, and precise movement. The Primary Montessori classroom is designed to meet the individual needs of each child. By the time children have reached pre-school age, their actions have become purposeful and willful, and their focus turns to their peers and the new community of which they are now a member.
I do not believe there is a method better than the Montessorian for making children sensitive to the beauties of the world and awakening their curiosity regarding the secrets of life.
—Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez