Who is Maria Montessori? Dr Maria Montessori was one of the most influential pioneers in early childhood education in the twentieth century. Her ideas have become known and recognized throughout the world. Many elements of modern education have been adapted from Montessori's theories. She is credited with the development of the open classroom, individualized education, manipulative learning materials, teaching toys, and programmed instruction.
Today there is a growing consensus among educators and developmental psychologists that many of her ideas were decades ahead of their time. As the movement gains support and spreads into the American public school sector, and gains official recognition internationally, one can readily say that Montessori, is a remarkably modern approach.
Maria Montessori was born in 1870 in Ancona, Italy, to an educated middle class family. She grew up in a country considered conservative in its attitude toward women, yet even against the considerable opposition of her father, fellow male students, and teachers, Montessori pursued a scientific education and became one of the first women to become a physician in Italy.
As a practicing physician associated with the University of Rome, she was a scientist, not a teacher. It is ironic that she became famous for her contributions in a field that she had rejected as the traditional refuge for women at a time when few professions were open to women. The method evolved almost by accident. Working with some of the poorest and most disadvantaged children of working parents in Rome she used the classroom as a laboratory for observing them and for developing ideas and materials which would help them to achieve their full potential.
So great was the success of her Montessori Method that she travelled the world, establishing schools and lecturing about her discoveries. She wrote numerous books and many articles right up until her death in 1952 at the age of 82.She left to the world the legacy of a method of education which combines a practical approach based on a carefully planned learning environment with a philosophy centered on the idea of freedom for the child. All children, says Montessori, are intrinsically motivated to learn and they absorb knowledge without effort when provided with the right kind of activities at the right time in their development.
The Montessori Method of Education
Developing the Child Dr Maria Montessori's approach to education was to observe children carefully to discover their individual needs. She was a great innovator, always aware that education needs to change as society changes. She believed that teachers could be trained to make children confident and capable self educators, prepared and equipped for the future. The Montessori approach places emphasis on educating the whole child, covering all aspects of development - intellectual, social, physical, emotional and spiritual. Building upon children's intrinsic desire to learn, Montessori created ideal environments full of opportunities for children to experiment and initiate their own education. At the heart of the method are the Montessori materials, beautiful and enticing pieces of equipment which have been carefully designed to incorporate a teaching purpose. Understanding, dexterity and skill are developed each time the child uses them.
Practical life Activities On first entering the Montessori school children are given the opportunity to develop important life skills which will allow them greater freedom in the classroom. They learn to manage their own clothes using dressing frames to practise buttons, zips and bows. They are also shown how to care for their classroom, using child-sized brushes and dusters. Developing practical skills - like pouring drinks from a jug and laying tables - and social skills with friends and teachers, enable them to feel capable, self-reliant members of the community. Sensorial First learning is through the senses so Montessori schools use a range of well thought out exercises to help children sort, match and compare objects by shape, size, touch, taste and sound. These early sensorial impressions boost children's powers of observation and discrimination, broaden their vocabulary and contribute to their later understanding of formal educational concepts.
Language and Literacy Montessori's language materials are based on a carefully structured phonic approach to writing and reading. Recognized for their excellence, they are used widely in many non-Montessori schools and settings where special help is required. First, children learn sensorially by tracing sandpaper letters with their fingers while they are told the sounds. Soon they are writing simple words with moveable letters, matching words with objects and reading their first stories in phonic readers. When asked how they learned to read and write Montessori children will often answer, "I did it myself."
Mathematics Essentially mathematics is about understanding relationships in the environment and being able to express them in mathematical terms. Montessori materials, like the number rods, golden beads and spindle boxes, are simple and interesting and provide step-by-step learning. They are also self correcting, which means that children can see at a glance if they have made a mistake and can put it right without a teacher's help. This enables them to progress at their own rate and understand each stage thoroughly before they move on to the next stage. Cultural In the Montessori classroom children use globes, puzzle maps and flags to underpin activities which build their understanding of other countries, cultures and people. Children are also taught to match, classify and name the elements and species of the natural world using picture and name cards. Classroom plant growing and caring for pets help to form a bridge between the child's knowledge of the immediate environment and the wider world.