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Two developmental theories compared

Maria Montessori, the Italian early childhood educator, and Jean Piaget, the Swiss developmental psychologist, both proposed that children develop in sequence. But they disagreed on timing. Piaget believed children had specific periods of "cognitive" or intellectual development, with children not reaching their "concrete operational" stage until age seven. Montessori believed, however, that while children had specific "sensitive periods" for development, they should be encouraged to develop all of their senses from a very early age, and that self-learning would be based on the way the senses develop. In summary:


Birth to 3 years: Absorbent mind. Sensory experiences.

18 months to 3 years: Coordination and muscle development. Interest in small objects

2 to 4 years: Refinement of movement. Concern with truth and reality. Awareness of order sequence in time and space.

2.5 to 6 years: Sensory refinement.

3 to 6 years: Susceptibility to adult influence.

3.5 to 4.5 years: Writing.

4 to 4.4 years: Tactile sense.

4.5 to 5.5 years: Reading.

Overall: The prewriting steps on page 260 are a good example of a modern-day adaptation of Montessori in action.


Sensorimotor period, from birth to age 2: Obtain basic knowledge through the senses.

Preoperational period, from about age 2 to 7: Develop language and drawing skills, but self-centred and cannot understand abstract reasoning or logic.

Concrete operational period from 7 to 11 years: Begin to think logically, organize knowledge, classify objects and do thought problems.

Formal operations period from 11 to 15: Children begin to reason realistically about the future and deal with abstractions.

Overall: Piaget claimed reading, writing and mathematics should be left until the period from 7 years onwards: Montessori: much earlier.