The Prepared Environment
The Prepared Environment—Unlike traditional education, where there is primarily a two part structure (Teacher/Student), Montessori classrooms have three equal parts (Teacher/Student/Environment). A Montessori teacher has the responsibility of preparing the classroom environment with appealing hands-on materials so that the environment also becomes the child's "teacher."
Concrete to Abstract
Concrete to Abstract—The classrooms are filled with hands-on materials. Montessori believed that knowledge proceeds from the hand to the brain. Students tend to be more relaxed and settled when they are placing colored pegs on a board, (square root) or scrubbing a table (Children's House practical life activity). Concrete materials make concepts real, and therefore easily internalized. The student works abstractly (paper and pencil) when he or she has internalized the pattern and no longer needs the material.
Whole to Part
Whole to Part—The fundamental principal for Montessori Elementary education is often referred to as "Cosmic Education." Science education starts with the "Big Bang" and moves logically to the formation of the solar system and earth's geology. Math education begins with the "Story of Math" and language education with "The Story of the Ox and the House" (the letters A, B). Montessori believed that the child's mind must first be satisfied by a vision of the whole, before it can satisfactorily deal with the parts.
Sensitive Periods—The Montessori pedagogy is based on a relationship between the readiness or "sensitivity" of the learner and the specifically designed hands-on material. Montessori sensitive periods (for language, for order, for imagination, for abstraction) are linked to what we often think of as developmental education. Children learn better and more when the lesson matches their interest, when the teacher individualizes, and refrains from interfering with children who are concentrating.
Normalization—Normalization is the Montessori term for a healthy, well-adjusted child who learns effectively in any situation. Being in a Montessori environment for a period of years brings about normalization, no matter how challenging the home environment.
The Absorbent Mind
The Absorbent Mind—Montessori distinguished between periods of growth, where the intelligence is directed inwardly in an act of self-construction; and periods of development, where the intelligence is directed outwardly toward increasing knowledge, information, and experience in the world. The period from ages 3-6 is a period of growth. Montessori often compared the child’s mind to a sponge, which "absorbs" everything in its surroundings.
The Acquisition of Culture
The Acquisition of Culture— The period from ages 6-12 is a period of development Montessori called the Acquisition of Culture in which the basic standards, expectations, rules, laws are internalized. It may be as simple as knowing, "our culture writes left to right, top to bottom," but once conscious, it opens the door to the appreciation of other cultures, "the Hebrew culture writes right to left." That's why students at this age find research so appealing.
Cosmic Education—Cosmic education is Montessori's umbrella term for elementary education. The concept is strongly related to "Whole to Part." (above) Stories about the universe, as well as "Great Lessons," form the basis of the curriculum. Once the students have heard the grand design, have received the big picture, they feel satisfied by an apprehension of the whole and "their minds become fixed and they can concentrate."
"Going Out"-Related to the "acquisition of culture" is the concept of "Going Out." Montessori believed that the elementary aged child was developmentally especially suited to learn from activities outside the school building, in the thick of the society, the culture, and the natural world. Elementary teachers, emphasize such things as annual fossil hunting field trips, (EI) and an environmental camp (EII) as well as a significant number of field trip activities, to teach children that the source of all knowledge is human curiosity about the world we live in.