Maria Montessori Biography
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician, educator, and innovator, acclaimed for her educational method that builds on the way children naturally learn.
She opened the first Montessori school in Rome on January 6, 1907. Subsequently, she wrote extensively about her approach to education, attracting many devotees. There are now more than 22,000 Montessori schools in at least 110 countries worldwide.
Growing up in Italy in the 1870’s, Montessori was a sterling student, confident, ambitious, and unwilling to be limited by traditional expectations for women at that time. At age 13 she entered an all-boys technical institute to prepare for a career in engineering.
After some time, she changed her mind, deciding to become a doctor instead. With great perseverance and effort she gained admittance to the University of Rome’s medical program, opening the door for future women in the field. When she graduated from medical school in 1896, she was among Italy’s first female physicians.
Start of a Revolution
Montessori’s early medical practice focused on psychiatry. She also developed an interest in education, attending classes on pedagogy and immersing herself in educational theory. Her studies led her to observe, and call into question, the prevailing methods of teaching children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The opportunity to improve on these methods came in 1900, when she was appointed co-director of a new training institute for special education teachers. Maria approached the task scientifically, carefully observing and experimenting to learn which teaching methods worked best. Many of the children made unexpected gains, and the program was proclaimed a success.
Evolution of Methods
In 1907 Maria accepted a new challenge to open a childcare center in a poor inner-city district. This became the first Casa dei Bambini, a quality learning environment for young children. The youngsters were unruly at first, but soon showed great interest in working with puzzles, learning to prepare meals, and manipulating materials that held lessons in math. She observed how they absorbed knowledge from their surroundings, essentially teaching themselves.
Utilizing scientific observation and experience gained from her earlier work with young children, Maria designed learning materials and a classroom environment that fostered the children’s natural desire to learn. News of the school’s success soon spread through Italy and by 1910 Montessori schools were acclaimed worldwide.
In the years following, and for the rest of her life, Maria dedicated herself to advancing her child-centered approach to education. She lectured widely, wrote articles and books, and developed a program to prepare teachers in the Montessori Method. Through her efforts and the work of her followers, Montessori education was adopted worldwide.
Maria Montesori’s Philosophies
There were certain things that Montessori saw were very important for a child’s natural development.
Children are inherently good and, if allowed to develop freely, they feel connected to everything and are naturally caring to each other and the world around them. Indeed, children can show adults a way to return to a more meaningful, holistic way of living.
Children thrive on order and structure
Order in the environment makes children feel safe and that they know how things should be. Great emphasis is therefore put on order within the Montessori classroom. By ensuring that everything has its place, and that the environment is designed to be as accessible as possible for children to work in, they can then be given the maximum freedom to move and develop.
Children move through sensitive periods
There are certain periods of particular sensitivity that repeatedly occur in children. During these periods the child could learn the activity that they were focused on, at a particularly intense rate, and such learning appears to come very easily. Montessori teachers therefore watch out for these very creative periods and make sure that the children have the freedom to follow their interests.
Children learn through their senses
Children build on their physical experiences of the world through their senses. By carefully designing interesting materials which the children were drawn to experiment with, we could help them extend this understanding. Montessori’s initial designs have never become outdated in today’s modern world, and are now reproduced in schools throughout the world.
Children need freedom
Freedom is the single most important factor in allowing children to develop as spontaneous, creative individuals.
Children absorb their culture
Children who are allowed to work in guided freedom can show great social development, displaying great love and care towards others.
Teachers should sensitively guide rather that control children. Ultimately their role is not so much to teach the children as to direct the natural energies that they see emerging.
It is natural and very easy for children to learn by watching other children. Montessori schools therefore encourage children of all ages to work together as a social group and do not normally split children by sex or age.
Children are natural learners
Children undergo wonderful transformations in overall happiness, self-confidence and self-discipline when they were allowed to follow their innate needs.
Processes not Results
Montessori schools believe that children are at their happiest when they are busily involved in processes. Children are natural learners who, if left to follow their instincts, will want to constantly explore the world.
Montessori schools therefore believe that each child is an individual and should be encouraged to work at the pace that is right for him or her. There are no grades or tests. Children are never in competition with each other.
And Montessorians continue to fight to preserve the rights of each child to be protected from undue pressure.
Learning should be FUN!