Around the turn of the 19th century, an Italian-born physician became interested in child development. This physician was Maria Montessori. Her interest in children led her to spend a great deal of time observing the emotional and intellectual growth of children. Out of these observations, she created an educational pedagogy, which is known as the Montessori Method.
The overarching premise of the Montessori teaching philosophy is that children are innately curious and driven to learn and explore their environment. Young children have what Montessori called “absorbent minds” that constantly and quickly internalize information around them. Montessori embraced the idea that children were not empty vessels, waiting to be told the facts of history, science, and math, but had the ability to be self-directed learners in a prepared environment. “A child learns to walk and talk, and Montessori found that within the child is the same type of ability to naturally acquire skills for reading, writing and mathematics” (Casa di Mir website, 2008).
While nearly all children were presumed by Montessori to be self-directed learners, they were not all expected to learn at the same pace. Instead, Montessori spoke of sensitive periods. Sensitive periods reflect the time when a child is most receptive to learning a new skill. Students are placed into mixed age classrooms to maximize their learning opportunities and abilities as individuals.