Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female physician in Italy, devoted her life to the study of how children learn. Based on her scientific observations, she developed a comprehensive, child-centered approach to education founded on the following principles:

• Education should prepare children for life - intellectually, emotionally and physically.
• Children learn best without undue interference, motivated by their innate need to explore and discover.
• Specially designed environments facilitate children's development to their fullest potential.
• Children should be allowed to progress at their own pace, regardless of ability level or age.

Dr. Montessori's background in science, psychology and anthropology, along with her deep humanitarian interest, influenced her ideas of educational reform. Today, her findings influence teachers in schools throughout the world. Swaziland has will have its first Montessori high school from 2017.

Key Principles of the Montessori Approach

"If we want to help life, the first condition of success is that we shall know the laws that govern it." - Dr. Maria Montessori

Built around universal needs, tendencies and development of humans, the key principles include:

1. The four planes of development
The universal needs and characteristics of children during these general age spans change and the Montessori approach to the child changes in response to these planes of development:

The "HELP ME DO FOR MYSELF" Planes are 0 - 12

First Plane: Birth through 6 + years

Development of Absorbent Mind, Intense Concentration, Language Order, Self-Construction, Physical and Biological Independence.

Second Plane: 6+ through 12 years

Exploration of Mind and Personality Moral, Social and Mental Independence.

The "HELP ME THINK FOR MYSELF" Planes are 12 - 24

Third Plane: 12 through 18 years

Development of Social Policy, Reflective / Interpretive Mind, Sense of Justice and Dignity, Social Independence.

Fourth Plane: 18 through 24 years.

Evaluation of Social Policy, Spiritual and Moral Independence.

2. Human tendencies
Montessori responds to universal needs, tendencies, characteristics and inclinations of humans that are present throughout life, that are interrelated and constant through time (humans past, present and future).

3. Sensitive periods
These are critical periods in a child's development between birth and age six that show key sensitivity for the child's attention and exploration of their environment. These unique times of sensitivity help the child acquire certain traits and create a drive for the child's exploration and particular activity. They may overlap but have differing critical periods. Once the special developmental acquisition is fulfilled, or that window of development has passed, the sensitive period disappears. Acquiring traits outside of this sensitive period is not as deep and requires more effort by the brain.

4. Normalization and adaptation
Normalization is the process that occurs during the first six years of life (the first plane of development) that allows the child to self-construct through their own purposeful activity which Montessori calls "work". Through activity that is self-chosen and that engages the child's innate capacities and tendencies, effort, repetition and concentration, the process of normalization aid the child.

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