Maria Montessori developed a method of nursery education in Italy, which has spread across the globe. She discovered that learning begins at birth and accelerates during the first five or six years. She believed that children have natural times for certain learning, and that if those times are recognised, and the children are given the opportunity to develop them, they will make huge leaps in ability in a short time.
We have all seen children obsessively carrying out the same activity over and over again, whether doing a jigsaw, laying out a tea set, or putting an object in and out of a box. When they have learned everything there is to learn about the activity they abandon it completely. Traditional teaching methods emphasise how short an attention span pre-school children have, but parents know that when a child is interested in what he or she is doing, they have a very long attention span.
The secret of the Montessori method is to identify what stage each individual child has reached and introduce activities to suit that stage. It gives children the opportunity to discover the environment at their own individual pace. In each Montessori activity the steps are so carefully graded and done in such small increments that they lead, in a very short time, from the very simple to what, to many people, seem extremely complex concepts for children. It is by no means unusual for a four-year-old child in a Montessori nursery to be learning to read books, competent at addition and subtraction, as well as being able to dress and undress herself, prepare a snack and wash her plate and cup up afterwards.