Maria Montessori and her Montessori Method of teaching
Maria Montessori 1870 - 1952
"I studied my children and they taught me how to teach them." ~ Maria Montessori
Today there are more than 22,000 Montessori schools in at least 110 countries worldwide which attest to the enduring and creative method of teaching she professed. That Maria Montessori's child-centered education became so popular at the turn of the 20th century and is still today practiced all over the world is a testament to her method of teaching in which the child learns and discovers his/her fullest potential.
In a time of standardized tests, the Montessori Method of teaching is refreshing and definitely not an education that is taught to a test. The Montessori Method is one of a child-centered education approach based on scientific observations of children from birth to adulthood and is practiced in public and private schools throughout the United States. This method of teaching has never become obsolete because students learn to think critically, work collaboratively and act boldly which is a necessary skill set for the 21st century.
Maria Tecla Artemesia Montessori was an Italian physician and educator and is best known for the philosophy of education that bears her name. She was born in Chiaravalle, Italy in an upper middle-class family.
Her father, Alessandro Montessori was an official of the Ministry of Finance and worked in a local state-run tobacco factory. Her mother was Renilde Stoppani and quite well educated for the times. Maria was most influenced by her mother who encouraged her to pursue an education in an age where Italian women married, became housewives, and mothers.
In 1883/84, Maria entered a secondary technical school of all boys to study engineering in Rome. She graduated from here in 1886 with good grades. She continued her education at the technical institute Regio Instituto Tecinco Leonardo da Vinci again as the only girl in the class. Here she excelled in sciences and mathematics. She graduated in 1890 at age 20 with a certificate in sciences and mathematics.
Then, much to her father's dismay, but with the support of her mother, Maria enrolled at the University of Rome to study medicine in 1893. Again, she was the only female in an all male profession. She won an academic prize in her first year at university. She worked as a hospital assistant during her time as a medical student and gained clinical experience.
When she graduated from university in 1896 as a doctor of medicine, she became the first woman medical doctor in all of Italy. She was then employed as an assistant at the University of Rome hospital and started a private practice. She specialized in pediatrics and psychiatry.
From 1896-1901, Maria worked with and researched mentally retarded children, their illnesses, and disabled children in general. During this period, Maria also entered into a love affair with Guiseppe Montesano, a fellow doctor.
They both were co-directors of the Orthophrencic School of Rome. Together they had a child, Mario, but because of the times, Maria did not wish to marry because she would then not be permitted to do her work. She would have to stay home and be a housewife and mother.
Maria could not bring up the child as a single mother and so he was placed in the care of a rural family. Maria was later reunited with Mario when he was an adolescent and he became a great assistant to her in her research and work.
Montesano went on to marry another woman and Maria never spoke to him again. Their work together ended and Maria went on to study, research and create her teaching method.
Part of Maria's work at the Orthophrenic School was to visit asylums throughout Rome and from her observation of the children, she began to form her teaching pedagogy. Her teaching methods were influenced by two leading 19th century physicians and educators, Jean Marc Gaspard Itard and Edouard Seguin.
Maria was particularly intrigued with Itard's ideas and she created a more specific and organized system for applying them to the everyday education of children with disabilities. She wrote articles and lectured urging the creation of special classes and institutions for mentally disabled children as well as teacher training for the instructors.
Maria focused on the abilities instead of the disabilities of the children she observed and created teaching methods and materials which she would later adapt with mainstream children. She was appointed as co-director of the Scuola Magistrale Ortofrenica a medico-pedagogical institute for training teachers in educating mentally disabled children which included an attached laboratory classroom.
This school was an immediate success and when mentally disabled children took public exams along with normal children, Maria's students did better than some of the normal children. Maria continued working on what she called her "scientific pedagogy" and continued lecturing at the University of Rome and in public about her teaching methods.
From 1906 to 1911, Maria worked in the poor San Lorenzo district of Rome and opened her first school, Casa del Bambini (Children's House) and enrolled 50-60 children between the ages of two through seven. Her lessons included teaching hygiene and the personal care of dressing and undressing, care of the environment such as dusting and sweeping and caring for a garden.
Also, included in her lessons were the use of materials she had developed such as blocks, wooden toys, wooden instruments etc. She highlighted the use of manipulatives for the children to use to enhance their education. The children leaned by doing, not by lecture as was the popular method of education in Italian schools at the time.
Maria did not directly teach the children but oversaw the school, the teachers and the education. She observed behaviors in young children which formed the foundation of here educational methods.
Through her observations of the children she observed their deep attention and concentration on multiple repetitions of activity and sensitivity to order in their environment. Given free choice, the children showed more interest in practical activities and Maria's materials rather than the toys provided from them. They were also unmotivated by sweets and rewards. She observed spontaneous self-discipline that emerged among the children.
Maria observed as the children worked independently they could reach new levels of autonomy and become self-motivated and reach new levels of understanding. Maria came to believe that acknowledging children as individuals and teaching them as such would yield better learning and fulfill the potential in each individual child.
She allowed children free choice of materials, uninterrupted work, freedom of movement and activity within limits set by the environment of the classroom. She saw independence as the aim of education and the role of the teacher as an observer and director of children's innate psychological development.
The Casa del Bambini was a success and so more schools of its kind were opened up throughout Rome. The children continued to exhibit concentration, attention, and spontaneous self-discipline.
Maria also found that four and five years old could learn to read far beyond what was expected for their age. She provided letters cut from sandpaper and mounted on cards and movable cut out letters and picture cards with labels. This enabled the children to learn to read at younger ages that what was expected.
Maria's Montessori Method of teaching was officially adopted in the public schools throughout Italy and Switzerland and Montessori schools were opened in Paris and other western European cities and countries.
At this time, Montessori societies were founded in the United States and the United Kingdom. The first Montessori School in the U.S. was opened in 1911 in Tarrytown, New York. Maria's work was widely translated and published during this period.
During these years, Maria traveled and visited different countries throughout the world bringing her Montessori Method of teaching worldwide. Maria spent much time in Barcelona, Spain opening Montessori Schools, but the beginning of the Spanish Civil War brought in a military dictatorship that closed many of her schools. She left Spain permanently in 1934.
In her own country, the Mussolini fascist government came into power and because her schools fostered independence of learning and thought, Mussolini had them closed down.
It was during the period of 1939-46 that Maria and her son, Mario went to live and work in India where her schools were supported by Mahatma Gandhi as he felt they were important to India's quest for independence. During their stay there, Mario was interred in India because he was Italian and feared a fascist during WWII. Maria was placed on house arrest until 1946. It was then that Maria and Mario returned to Europe and continued traveling, lecturing and bringing her schools to Europe and India.
Maria resided in Amsterdam, the Netherlands to continue with her education work until her death in 1952. From then on, her son, Mario, continued with her work and the Montessori Schools.
"And so we discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being."
~ Maria Montessori
"The first thing to be done, therefore, is to discover the true nature of a child and then assist him/her in his/her normal development." ~ Maria Montessori
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The Montessori Method of teaching
Maria Montessori was a woman ahead of her time and a pioneer of theories of early childhood education as she worked intensely in the fields of psychiatry, education and anthropology during her lifetime. She strongly believed that each child is born with a unique potential to be revealed rather than as a "blank slate" waiting to be written upon.
Her Montessori Method of teaching and theory are explained in her books, The Montessori Method (1912) and The Discovery of the Child (1948).
Her major contributions to educating children were preparing the most natural and life supporting environment for the child; observe the child living freely in this environment; and continually adapting the environment in order that the child my fulfill his/her greatest potential physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Her message to those that emulated her or adopted her method of education was always to turn one's attention to the child and "to follow the child."
She observed that intrinsic intelligence was present in children of all socio-economic backgrounds and she viewed the child as one who is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive and thoughtfully prepared learning environment. Her method values the human spirit and development of the whole child - physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively.
She believed in turning out a human being that was superior not only academically but emotionally and spiritually as the result of the child's choice, practical work, care of others and the environment, and, the high levels of concentration reached when work is respected and not interrupted.
She maintained the respect and dignity of each child was to be foremost to her learning methods in an era when children were to be "seen and not heard." The children were given the freedom to choose and carry out their own activities at their paces and following their own inclinations. She observed the great concentration in the children and the spontaneous repetition of chosen activities.
Her school room was equipped with child-sized furniture and shelves and she observed a strong tendency in the children to order their own environment by straightening tables, chairs, shelves and ordering materials.
As the children chose some activities over others, Maria refined the materials and manipulatives she offered to them. She found that over time, children began to exhibit what she called "spontaneous discipline." She observed human behavior as guided by universal, innate characteristics in human psychology.
Maria observed four distinct periods in the human development of the child:
- birth to six years of age
- six to twelve years of age
- twelve to eighteen years of age
- eighteen to twenty-four years of age
She called for education approaches specific to each period of a child's development and she saw different characteristics, learning modes, and developing imperatives active in each of these periods.
Her method includes multi-age groupings that encouraged peer learning, uninterrupted blocks of learning/work time and guided choice of work activity. The younger children were able to learn from the older ones and the older children reinforce what they have already learned by teaching concepts they have mastered.
This also mirrors the real world where individuals work and socialize with people of all ages and dispositions. Montessori instructors match the appropriate lessons and materials to the window of opportunity when learning is most naturally absorbed and internalized by the child.
During her lifetime, Maria developed pedagogical methods and materials for the first two periods of a child's life and she wrote and lectured about the third and fourth periods.
The Montessori Method of education included:
- Young children's education along with the development of the child's own initiative and natural abilities especially through practical play.
- This allowed children to develop at their own pace and provided educators with a better understand of the child's development.
- Educators set up special environments to meet the needs of students in there groups: 2 1/2 years; 2 1/2 to 6 years; and 6 1/2 to 12 years.
- Children learn through activities that involve exploration, manipulations, order, repetition, abstraction and communication.
- The instructor was to encourage children in the first two age groups to use their senses to explore and manipulate materials in their immediate environment.
- Children in the last group deal with abstract concepts based on their newly developed powers of reasoning,, imagination and creativity.
From living during WWII, Maria was inspired to add peace education to the Montessori curriculum. It was in India that she developed her Education for Peace component to her method. Because of this, she was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Montessori Method also includes an interdisciplinary curriculum as the child passes from the concrete to the abstract. The child begins to apply his/her knowledge to the real-world experience.
The organization of facts and figures prepares the child for the world of adolescence when thought and emotion evolve into understanding more abstract universal concepts such as equality, freedom and justice.
That Maria's method and schools are flourishing today in the United States and world-wide is a testament to her observations of children and her method of teaching them by bringing out the innate goodness, intelligence, and emotional learning all children need and deserve.