WHO WAS MARIA MONTESSORI?
Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was an Italian physician and anthropologist who devoted her life to understanding how children develop socially, intellectually, physically, and spiritually. By carefully observing children all over the world, she discovered universal patterns of development which are found in all children regardless of their culture or the era in which they live.
Dr. Montessori was one of the first women to be granted a diploma as a physician in Italy. Following her interest in human development, she assisted at a clinic for children with mental illnesses. She later directed the Orthophrenic School in Rome for children with physical, mental and emotional challenges. During this time Dr. Montessori lectured throughout Europe concerning the needs of children and their value to the future of our societies. She stressed the need to change our attitudes about children and their treatment.
In 1907, Dr. Montessori was given the responsibility of caring for a group of children in the Rome’s San Lorenzo slum district. She began to see the importance of a positive, nurturing environment that changes with the developmental needs of the child. As she observed the children and their response to the environment, she saw them demonstrate capabilities and interests that exceeded her expectations. The set of materials used in the "Montessori" environment were designed over a period of many years by Dr. Maria Montessori and her associates, creating a concrete, physical representation of the concepts and skills that children are naturally motivated to learn in their normal course of development.
Dr. Montessori conducted her first international training course in Italy in 1913, and her first American training course in California in 1915. As she carried her vision around the world, she felt that a time had come to ensure the quality and integrity of what was being handed down in her training courses. For that reason, she founded the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) in 1929. Today AMI continues to support quality teacher training worldwide.
Maria Montessori was a visionary, not easily daunted by the many challenges she faced during her career. She traveled extensively, lecturing and teaching throughout Europe, India and in the United States. She was recognized for her efforts by educators, psychologists and political leaders of the day. Her associates included such people as Anna Freud, Erik Erikson, Mahatma Gandhi, Alexander Graham Bell and Jean Piaget.
Dr. Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949, 1950 and 1951 and continued working, teaching and writing up to the time of her death. Over the past one hundred years children throughout the world have benefited from this educational approach that supports, nurtures, and protects natural development. Maria Montessori’s legacy lives on in the children whose lives are touched by her discoveries about life.
In her own words:
"My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that certification... but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their own activity, through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual." - Introduction, From Childhood to Adolescence, Clio
“… The children themselves found a sentence that expressed this inner need. “Help me to do it by myself!” How eloquent is this paradoxical request! …It is in this that our conception differs both from that of the world in which the adult does everything for the child and from that of a passive environment in which the adult abandons the child to himself” - The Secret of Childhood, p. 213
“I have served the spirits of those children, and they have fulfilled their development, and I kept them company in their experiences” - Absorbent Mind p. 284
Maria Montessori was a leading thinker in education whose ideas were, in many ways, ahead of their time. She was born in Chiaravalle, Italy, in 1870, and became one of that country’s first female physicians in 1886. In clinical observation through her medical practice, she studied how children learn, and she concluded that they teach themselves based on what they find in their environment. To further understand this phenomenon, she returned to university and studied psychology and philosophy. Shortly afterwards, she gave up her medical practice and university professorship to found the first Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, in the San Lorenzo neighborhood of Rome. In teaching these sixty children, she developed the philosophy, methods, and materials that would eventually become known as the Montessori approach.
In a typical Montessori classroom, the directress or guide blends in with the children. The children independently choose their own activities, which are designed to teach daily living skills, from cooking to carpentry, sensorial acuity, numeration and arithmetic, as well as writing skills and reading. The guide gives individual or group presentations of the material to those who need them. As the children reach elementary age, there more group presentations and subjects like history, geography, and the sciences, subjects already introduced in the preschool years, are now pursued in more depth.
Dr. Maria Montessori considered her method to be a help to the life of the child more than a system of education or cognitive development. When she first studied young children, Montessori observed that they went through sensitive periods during which they showed special aptitude for certain kinds of developmental activity. These periods are especially pronounced in the development of movement, order, language, music, fascination with small objects, and bonding or attachment. Modern neuroscience has validated these discoveries, which calls them “Windows of Opportunity.” Montessori taught that gross motor development is the foundation for fine motor movements (like writing or sewing), writing “If a child cannot hold a pencil, show him how to sweep the floor.”
Sensorial and motor development are the child’s means of exploration in the early years – here Montessori agreed with Jean Piaget, her contemporary – so she advocated giving the child room to explore. She believed that a child’s independence would grow from choosing his activities wisely and with the help of an adult guide. Furthermore, cooperation with others and responsibility for group tasks is emphasized, as it instills important values that are derived from working with others.
Children become self-regulated through concentration on stimulating self-chosen tasks that they can pursue individually or in groups. Montessori called this process “normalization.” This progression is encouraged through a variety of activities, including focused movement exercises, such as balanced walking on line on the floor, and concentration exercises, such as the “silence game,” in which children are invited to be still and to focus mentally on a sound (for example, soft music) or on an object in the classroom environment.
The Montessori approach encourages self-discipline, self-knowledge, independence, academic skills, problem solving ability, and an enthusiasm for learning.