The specific discoveries that she made concerning the nature and education of children are varied. She found that children have an amazing ability for concentration, they learn by and love repetition, they love order, and they learn best when given "free choice of activity." To the amazement of many, she discovered that children preferred work to play, that they had no need for rewards and punishments, and that they actually loved silence. In providing these children with an orderly but free environment, she discovered that they had a spontaneous self-discipline coming from within.
By giving these children a nurturing, free, ordered, and supportive environment, they became eager for learning of all kinds. They learned reading, writing, math, and general life and science principles. The role of the teacher is very different in a Montessori School from traditional schools. The teachers do not tell the children about reality but rather provide the materials for them to learn through their senses.
From her discovery that children love order, she incorporated in her educational method teaching children to clean up after themselves and to always return things to their proper place. She also observed that children love work and to engage in truly constructive activities.
Maria also saw that young children had the ability to engage in what she calls "spontaneous concentration." This concentration needs to be respected and not interrupted with activities directed by adults. In her schools she thus advocated that children be allowed to freely work within the environment and that their love of silence and working alone be respected. She also saw that children had the ability to make real choices and to respond with more than curiosity. She advocated that children should be encouraged to be as independent as possible. She saw that in her schools the children helped each other and were not competitive or jealous.
Dr. Montessori also became aware that young children are truly fascinated with external reality. She felt that fairy tales and other fantasy activities were not necessary for stimulating young children. Reality is itself magical and mystical for them and the external reality imposes the discipline and limits on the intellect that are necessary for healthy development. She also saw that children who had been "normalized" through relating to the prepared environment were not possessive in their activities. They reached the stage where the knowledge of the object is more important than the object itself. Dr. Montessori once said that members of religious orders and these normalized children seemed to have the same nonpossessive attitude toward property. The idea, "to use and not to possess," guided them. In the prepared environment, normalized children were very obedient, which springs from "spontaneous self-discipline." This self-discipline takes place naturally within an environment of liberty and respect for the child. Children participating in these prepared environments emulate a sense of joy and happiness.
Maria Montessori's work had such scope and depth because it encompassed all aspects of a child's life. She also discovered certain concepts that are a foundation for her method. One such concept is that of the child being in stages of metamorphosis. The child's stages of development are distinct one from another. She compared these stages to the metamorphosis of a butterfly. She felt that the child's mind actually functioned differently depending on the stage of development. She also felt that each individual child goes into differing stages at their own different times. In her schools she had materials for these different stages, and children were free to use them whenever the time was right.