Montessori educators are frequently asked to explain why children enter the program at the age of three.
Here is a brief anecdote we often hear from parents of older 3 year olds:
Your child celebrated their 3rd birthday and in a few short months transformed from a toddler to an exploratory and creative individual who is clearly ready for more independence. You watch her blossom and grow before your eyes; she is inquisitive and curious to learn. It becomes apparent that she needs more than toys and activities in the home to stimulate her potential.
A few months before, or at the time of the 3rd birthday would have been the optimum time for this developing youngster to be enrolled in a preschool program. Starting school as early as 2 years 9 months, or as a new 3 year old, gives children the best opportunity to benefit from an enriched classroom environment such as Montessori.
During this stage of growth, children change rapidly and develop the most important aspects of their social, emotional, physical and intellectual personality.
The Parents’ View of Readiness for School
Parents begin to look for a preschool when they sense that this is the right time for their child to have more experiences outside the home. Perhaps toys no longer seem interesting; maybe there is an interest in language or numbers. Parents might also feel the needs for their child to socialize with new friends, and see the emotionally readiness to make the transition away from home.
The Educator’s Perspective for Readiness
From the perspective of the Montessori educator, readiness is not just an academic concern. The teacher is interested in the whole child: The child’s ability to communicate and cooperate; her willingness to accept and master new experiences.
It is important for parents not to push academic skills on children to make them ready. In Montessori, the curriculum begins with practical and social skills: Learning how to interact graciously with others, to develop self-control, to sustain concentration, to dress oneself, to keep track of their belongings and how to put them away… and so on.
These are the foundations for growing independence and academic learning.
The Absorbent Mind of the Child
Children between the ages of three and six go through what Dr. Montessori called “sensitive periods”: Periods
during which the child has a genius capacity for mental absorption. The “absorbent mind” will never repeat this unique ability to absorb language, to perfect movement, or to internalize order. These ‘sensitivities’ are at their most heightened ability during the preschool years.
In the second year of the Montessori program the children who are now 4 years old, bring with them all the experiences and skills they acquired in their first year when they were three. This is an important year for repetition and consolidation of their learning in preparation for the kindergarten year.
In the third year of the Montessori program the preparation and skill building from the previous two years culminates with the work of the 5 year olds.
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