The Montessori approach to learning is based on the work of Dr. Maria Montessori, who began her research in children's education in the late 1890's. The central focus of Montessori education is to help children develop their full potential for creativity, initiative, independence, inner discipline, and self-confidence. This process is facilitated by encouraging learning at an earlier age than typical preschools do. Real work activities take precedence over play. Today, there are about a thousand Montessori schools in the U.S. Most are private schools for ages three to six, or elementary grades. Individual learning is stressed, with children allowed to select their own activities. Yet, structure and order are important parts of the Montessori classroom. Children are taught to take care of materials, and return them as they found them. Nature and reality are emphasized: classroom equipment is authentic, rather than being a 'play' telephone, sink, or refrigerator. Only one of each type prop is provided, so children must learn to wait their turn. Classrooms typically feature bright, cheerful colors, attractive displays, and a relaxing atmosphere. For more information on the Montessori method, contact a Montessori school in your area.