The real essence of the Montessori method is to help the natural process of human development, to create integrated personalities, that is, people who have a sense of responsibility, who know their limitations, who have a sense of duty toward themselves and society, and who, having a clear vision, can make a positive contribution to solving social problems.
In a Montessori classroom, there is no front of the room and no teacher’s desk as a focal point of attention because the stimulation for learning comes from the total environment. Dr. Montessori always referred to the teacher as a directress, and his or her role differs considerably from that of a traditional teacher (Simons & Simons, 1984). She or he is, first of all, a very keen observer of the individual interests and needs of each child, and his or her daily work proceeds from his or her observations rather than from a prepared curriculum. She or he demonstrates the correct use of materials as they are individually chosen by the children. She or he carefully watches the progress of each child and keeps a record of his or her work with the materials.
Montessori teachers are trained to recognize periods of readiness. Sometimes she or he must direct a child who chooses material which is beyond his or her ability; at other times she or he must encourage a child who is hesitant. Whenever a child makes a mistake, she or he refrains, if possible, from intervening and allows the child to discover his or her own error through further manipulation of the self-correcting material. This procedure follows Dr. Montessori’s principles and, to a small degree, explains why disciplining a child is rarely mentioned by Montessori.
Dr. Montessori wrote, A child’s work is to create the man he will become. An adult works to perfect the environment, but a child works to perfect himself@ (Montessori, 1973b, p. 36). Using the child's natural inclination as a point of departure, Dr. Montessori structured several exercises for the classroom to help the child satisfy their need for meaningful activity. For these exercises she used familiar objects; buttons, brushes, dishes, pitchers, water and many other things which the child may recognize from his or her home experience.
For the young child, there is something special about tasks which an adult considers ordinary--washing dishes, paring vegetables, and polishing shoes. They are exciting to the child because they allow him or her to imitate adults. Imitation is one of the child’s strongest urges during his or her early years.
The Practical Life Exercises may seem simple and commonplace, they are actually a very important part of the Montessori program. Each of the tasks helps the child to perfect his or her coordination so that he or she will be able to work later with the more intricate academic materials. Several of the Practical Life Exercises involve the use of water with which most children naturally like to play. Carrying the water in a pitcher and pouring it into a basin helps the child to perfect his coordination.
As he becomes absorbed in an activity such as scrubbing a table top, he or she gradually lengthens his or her span of coordination. He or she also learns to pay attention to details as he or she follows a regular sequence of action. Finally, he or she learns good working habits as he or she finishes each task and puts away all his or her materials before beginning another activity.