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Dr. Maria Montessori's educational philosophy has been in use for many generations worldwide. Not just a system or method, it is a philosophy embraced by many individuals who concern themselves with children and the future of mankind. The Montessori philosophy is based on a profound respect for the child, freeing it from the preponderant influence of the adult and leaving room for independent growth. A large measure of freedom is allowed in a prepared environment, forming the basis of discipline and enabling the teacher to work with each child individually. Above all, this philosophy helps the child develop a strong sense of self aimed at the mastery of practical life and the joy of lifelong learning.
Respect for the child as an individual helps it develop independence and awareness of self outside of the home. A challenging environment provides children the opportunity to gain real and meaningful experiences. Montessori classrooms are the epitome of the "hands on" experience for the child. Children learn best by doing, and Dr. Montessori's didactic materials are designed to reach sensory, motor, and intellectual planes through a graduated system of learning in which children master simple, concrete concepts before progressing to the abstract. Most of the materials are self-correcting, which provides the child with a control of error to discover its own mistakes. Observation and activity lead to comparison and to what Montessori terms "homes" of  experience. Children have the freedom to choose and repeat any lesson they have been given, which allows them to satisfy their own desire to learn.  
Montessori Philosophy
Further Reading
Although Dr. Maria Montessori is best known as an educator, she was a medical pioneer as well becoming the first woman doctor in Italy to graduate in Italy in 1896.She began her work with children in insane asylums and in the slums of Rome, but soon came to believe that the educational principles she was developing applied to all children. She opened the first "Casa dei Bambini", or "Children's House", in 1907 in San Lorenzo, Rome. Her revolutionary ideas spread quickly, and training centers opened worldwide. Below are a few of the many web resources you might find interesting in learning more about Montessori.
AMI (Association Montessori Internationale)  
AMS (American Montessori Society)