The Montessori philosophy is more than the materials in the classroom, or the teacher giving lessons. It is an attitude towards children, a way of understanding their unique nature and allowing them to grow and develop to their fullest potential. Like many other educational philosophers, Dr. Montessori believed that human beings pass through stages in their development. She called the first stage of life, from birth to six years, the stage of the absorbent mind. This is when children literally absorb impressions from their environment through the "pores" of all their senses as a sponge absorbs water. The opportunities available in their environment will, therefore, be a major factor in determining the child's intellect. Dr. Montessori believed that during these early years of development, the child passes through sensitive periods or times when he becomes attuned to acquiring particular knowledge or skills. He will work on gaining that knowledge or skill with an interest and concentration he can never again display for that particular kind or work, because the child learns more easily during these sensitive periods. The Montessori environment allows each child the freedom to learn and develop at his own pace, according to his own capacities.The teacher prepares the environment to meet the specific and ever changing needs of the children in it. We respect the child's inner rhythm when we allow repetition of activities and give him time to work at his own pace. Only the child knows when he has satisfied his need for that activity, or has absorbed it. When we "follow the child" as Dr Montessori urged, we have the best chance of nurturing the child's natural curiosity and love for knowledge. Independence is another cornerstone in a Montessori classroom. Independence is encouraged at every turn, whether it is putting on one's own coat, choosing one's own work, or cleaning up after oneself at the snack table. Each small step towards independence builds confidence, self-esteem, and positive self-concept. "The hand is the chief teacher of the child," said Dr Montessori. Montessori classrooms are the epitome of the "hands on" experience for the child. Children learn best by doing.