Maria Montessori believed that we are each born once only, that we come into this life with the mission of learning to love God and each other so that on our death we can then be with our creator God, loved by him and loving him for all eternity. She affirmed that there is such a thing as right and wrong, and also that there is a difference between reality and fantasy. She emphasised the need for the educator to help the child distinguish between right and wrong and between reality and fantasy and to respond properly to each. She had great respect for the free will of the individual and also for their need for role models, to be shown how the world is and what to do with it. She observed that children need to be effectively mentored by adults and that if the educator offers what s/he perceives the child needs at the right time and in the right way for that child, the child will respond joyfully, carefully observing and then readily and determinedly practising the new skill until they have mastered it to their satisfaction. Although the parent or other educator should give a strong and clear lead as to how to do a particular task, once the child is embarked upon it, they must let the child practise it in their own way. If the child is patently getting it badly wrong, they should not say so , but rather distract the child and reintroduce the activity at a later date showing the correct way to do it, without referring to the child’s previous attempt. If the child is doing it slightly differently from the way in which the educator has shown them, but still mastering the skill, then the educator should leave well alone, as the child needs to exercise their own creativity and put their own stamp on the process. A crucial factor in education, Montessori believed, was that the educator saw that learning was a process that involved us all at every age and was humble enough to see that he or she is making the same journey towards truth as the children. He or she also needed to welcome mistakes as a stimulus to learning and to model for children how to welcome these and to put them right. Educators could light a spark by their example that might fan the flame of the child’s imagination and enthusiasm. She wrote in “To educate the human potential” “The secret of good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination”.
Montessori noted to her surprise that children who had become “normalized” in this way (i.e freed to follow their individual developmental needs) became peaceful, self-disciplined and developed a deep sense of empathy for others. She noted that children have certain windows of opportunity for developing certain skills, which she called “sensitive periods” and that children are naturally drawn to activities at each stage which help them develop the skill for the relevant sensitive period. By the age of 6, she noted, children will have learned for good or ill, not only how the world is but how they feel it should be. They will either have practised the skills needed for language acquisition, fine motor control, establishing order, coordination and social relationships, or they will not have done. If they have failed to receive the right support and stimulus at the relevant sensitive period, the child will always struggle with that skill. Montessori called these gaps in people’s development and knowledge “dropped stitches” and noted that many of us as adults struggle with such everyday things as putting on a coat or even holding a pen and few of us have developed the range of sensory perception that we could have done with the right stimulus at the right age. Montessori championed the rights and responsibilities of parents, recognising that these are God-given and that the relationship that parents have with their children from the earliest days is crucial and also holy. For Montessori, it is not man who is the answer to the world riddle, but free will consciously exercised in the service of the development of talents, which can lead the individual to return the love of God and of their neighbour.