Children, from birth on, want to learn. Children at different stages of development are drawn to different things. The young child from birth through six wants to learn the facts: the names of objects, how to do a task, and the care of self and his or her environment.
The child from six to twelve wants to learn about relationships between people, places, and things. A child needs help in making sense out of the many aspects of the world.
Providing that help is the idea behind the Montessori method of education. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, was frustrated by the rigid form of education she found in the early 1900s.
She observed that from birth to age six, children have an "absorbent mind" that gives them the ability to take in and remember all the details of their environment, from the daily routines to the names of objects to the way people like one thing and dislike another.
Children from six to twelve years have a "reasoning mind" and seek to learn about cause and effect in the universe as well as how people relate to each other throughout the world. Children need to organize and classify all this information.
Dr. Montessori believed adults could best help the child do this by creating a "prepared environment" that offers both structure and freedom. The structure comes from the order of the classroom and knowing how and why to use different materials. The freedom comes from the children's ability to choose their own tasks, work at their own pace, and move ahead as the desire to know more and something different becomes important.