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These articles for teachers and schools will inspire and support you in your work with children. Additionally, there are articles written for parents and families which you may distribute - print, email, or add to a newsletter (please retain the credits at the bottom of the email). Most articles are written by Montessori teachers on our staff.

Normalization, absorbent mind, sensitive periods... if you sometimes wonder whether your child's Montessori teacher is talking about science or children, the answer is yes! Here are 12 key terms defined by experienced Montessori parent, teacher, school founder, school director, and columnist Maren Schmidt M. Ed.

Understanding Montessori's Terminology

Montessori's was one of the first educational theories to spring from direct, ongoing scientific observation of children. As a pioneer, Dr. Montessori did not have a ready-made vocabulary with which to describe the behaviors she observed and the developmental stages to which they pointed. As a scientist, Montessori expected teachers to use her same scientific methods of observation and analysis to help the children in their charge. In order to share her knowledge, Dr. Montessori coined the necessary terms.

Today's Montessori teachers still learn from observing behaviors and assessing the individual child's development. And even though they still use Dr. Montessori's scientific vocabulary to describe the process, understanding Montessori is not as hard as it sounds. Check to see if your school has a lending library for parents and ask other parents for recommended reading. Vocabulary is a good place to start.

These 12 definitions are representative of the key terms you'll find defined in Understanding Montessori, by experienced Montessori parent, teacher, school founder, school director and columnist Maren Schmidt M. Ed. Note: in the interest of space, examples were edited out of some definitions.

Absorbent Mind:
Dr. Montessori used the term absorbent mind to express a concept of education being a "natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being." The absorbent mind is a "special psychic force at work, helping the little child to develop." This natural power that children possess helps them to absorb and learn from the world around them.

Apparatus (didactic materials, Montessori materials):
Montessori materials are a variety of hands-on lessons that are either manufactured or teacher made. These materials were designed and incorporated into the work with the children by Dr. Montessori, her son Mario, and the original Montessori adherents.

Dr. Montessori used materials made by Itard and Seguin, notably the Moveable Alphabet and Command Cards from Itard and the Teen Board and Tens Board from Seguin. Other materials are designed to reveal certain concepts to the child through hands-on, uninterrupted exploration after an introductory lesson from the Montessori teacher...

Cosmic Education:
Dr. Montessori saw the use of the imagination as the key to learning for children ages six to twelve years of age. Montessori urged us to give the child "a vision of the universe" because within this view there would be something that would fire each individual child's imagination and something that would draw the child's interest. As the child pursues areas of interest, all subjects of learning are touched upon due to the interconnectedness of the cosmos.

Four Planes of Development:
Dr. Montessori saw the human being going through four planes, or stages, of development with each plane having unique characteristics and opportunities for learning.
First plane: from birth to six years
Second plane: from six to twelve years
Third plane: from twelve to eighteen years, and
Fourth plane: from eighteen to twenty four years

Freedom & Responsibility:
The idea that freedom follows responsible behavior is an important concept in Montessori philosophy. We give opportunities to "respond with ability" and corresponding freedoms are given. For example, if you remember to bring your coat, then you will be given the freedom to go outside when it is cold.

Going Out:
The idea of going out is very different than the typical field trip that traditional elementary students take. Students in a Montessori elementary classroom will go out in small groups of two to perhaps six students into the community to gather information or experiences in an area of interest. For example, some schools are able to let students walk a few blocks to the city library. Other schools allow students to take public transportation to go to museums or college campuses to visit with experts in their field of study. Others have a system of parent volunteers who drive and chaperone students going out.

A going out program is possible due to the child developing freedom and responsibility over a period of many years. Students must earn the right to go out.

The natural or normal state for a human being is characterized by four attributes:
1. A love of work or activity
2. Concentration on an activity
3. Self-discipline
4. Sociability or joyful work

The understanding of normalization doesn't require a leap of faith when you consider those moments you feel most alive and more "you" than any other time. When we do what we love and love doing it because we have the skill and self-discipline to do the activity well, those are the blissful moments of being human... In a Montessori school we are trying to help the child attain a natural or normal developmental process, which is referred to as normalization...

Point of Interest:
As the child is learning new skills, the Montessori teacher will repeat a lesson to emphasize a movement or sensorial experience that will help in acquiring that skill.

For example, for the child who forgets to dry his or her hands with a towel, the Montessori teacher may present the hand washing lesson again with a point of interest on the movements and sensation of drying the hands with a towel.

Practical Life:
The prepared environment of the primary classroom contains activities that help the child learn dozens of practical self-care skills such as hand washing, dusting, sweeping, clothes washing, and more. The child around the age of three years is extremely interested in these activities. Doing the work with the practical life materials, the child learns to work independently in the classroom and develops concentration. Practical life activities form the foundation for later work with reading and math materials for the four- and five-year-olds.

Prepared Environment:
We live in a world of prepared environments. Stores, theaters, and restaurants are examples of places that have been prepared to meet the specific needs of the user...

The prepared environments in a Montessori school are created to meet the developmental needs of children based on observable behaviors; in many ways it is like a restaurant that is prepared to serve its customers...each Montessori environment is prepared by Montessori-trained people who understand the developmental needs of that age group.

Sensitive Periods:
Before the age of six, human beings are in a unique period of learning and development. At this time in our lives, we absorb certain information without conscious effort. Young children learn to walk, talk, and do hundreds of things without formal instruction or being aware of learning. Montessori described these stages as sensitive periods of development, using a term from biologists... There are five basic sensitive periods of development from birth to age six: language, order, refinement of the senses, movement, and social relations. In the older child, these unique learning periods are called psychological characteristics.

Purposeful activity is called work. Montessori observed that children learn by engaging in purposeful activity of their own choosing. When children can choose what they do, they do not differentiate between work and play.

Work Cycle:
A basic work cycle begins with choosing an activity, doing that activity, returning the activity to order, and then experiencing a sense of satisfaction. That defines one unit or cycle of work. This sense of satisfaction, which may last a few seconds to a few minutes, helps motivate the child (and adult) to choose the next activity, thus creating another cycle of work...the development of a work cycle is an important component in the idea of normalization for the child.

—Maren Schmidt with Dana Schmidt, Understanding Montessori: A Guide for Parents© 2009 by Maren Stark Schmidt; reprinted with permission of the publisher.

—Originally Published 2009