What is Montessori Education?
Maria Montessori’s ultimate goal in education was to help children grow in independence, self-discipline, concentration, motivation, and sensitivity to things around them.
Montessori education is a philosophy and a method developed by Dr. Maria Montessori in 1906 and practiced today in thousands of schools on six continents. Montessori education recognizes the unique potential in each child and awakens children’s natural ability to learn and to teach themselves.
Maria Montessori was herself a unique and remarkable person. Born in rural Italy in 1870, she challenged the medical and educational establishment and became Italy’s first woman MD in 1896. She began to work with mentally challenged children, as well as championing the causes of working women and children, and researching mental development and education. In 1904 she became Chair of Anthropology at the University of Rome. During this time, she developed her methods of observation and teaching that became the foundation of her philosophy
The Secret of Childhood
In 1907, Dr. Montessori was invited to direct what was essentially a day-care program for fifty poor, malnourished children in a tenement house in Rome. Using materials she had developed in her studies, and a few untrained assistants, she began her work. Here, in the first Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, she discovered what she later called the “secret of childhood”. She found in the children a spontaneous drive to choose freely the work that seemed to meet their needs, and an unanticipated ability to concentrate on and repeat their chores. She discovered they had a wellspring of internal discipline and self-motivation, an innate sense of order, and spontaneous interest in writing, reading, mathematics and other academic subjects. So remarkable were the changes in these children that she herself did not at first believe it; but soon it was impossible to deny, and the world took notice.
The Montessori Method
With the success of the first Children’s House, Dr. Montessori’s methods spread and flourished. She herself continued to study and observe children, refining her methods, extending them to older children, founding schools, training teachers, writing books, and lecturing worldwide. Montessori recognized that children’s developmental needs change as they grow older, and thus the method’s educational approach changes to meet those needs. Nonetheless, the same basic principles of respect for children and belief in their innate potentials guide the philosophy at all levels.
At the 3-to-6 year-old level, the curriculum is the world and everything in it, presented with materials that the child can experience concretely with the senses – by holding, touching and manipulating them. These materials physically embody basic concepts: shape, size and color, letter sounds, mathematical concepts, language, music, biology, geography and skills for practical living are just a few of the areas covered.
For the 6-12 year-old, who has developed powers of reason, abstraction, and imagination, the universe and all it contains is presented. Lessons, in the form of stories and materials, inspire children in independent research and group projects. The curriculum includes the physical nature of the universe, human history and prehistory, literature, science, the arts, mathematics and geometry – in fact, any subject studied can be and ispresented in a Montessori elementary classroom.
Social relations, including tolerance and respect for oneself and for others is also a strong part of Montessori curriculum. The children work individually and together in groups in a multi-age classroom, and the bonds formed among the children and their teachers become a lasting relationship which echoes an extended family. It is a unique environment which is a delight to observe.