written by Jocelyn Scotty
Maria Montessori, the first Italian woman doctor, while working with children in the early 1900’s created an educational philosophy and method now know as Montessori.
Maria Montessori was the first Italian woman to become a medical doctor when in 1896 she graduated from the University of Rome Medical School. Her medical practice initially led her to work with, what at the time were called “mentally deficient” children. She spent two years observing these children, studying the research of French philosophers, Jean Itard and Edouard Seguin, and creating new materials which succeeded in teaching these children basic reading and writing skills. This early success led Maria Montessori to concentrate her energies and career to the education of children.
The Casa dei Bambini
In 1907, Maria Montessori continued her work with children as the director of a day care center in a low income housing project in Rome named The Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House. She discovered that the children at The Casa dei Bambini used the same materials she had originally devised for the “mentally deficient” children, but showed much more concentration, would continually repeat the exercise, and appeared calm, satisfied and happy with the activity. Montessori’s observation of these children led her discover many important facts about child development which formed the basis for the Montessori philosophy and method.
The Montessori Philosophy
Maria Montessori set forth three revolutionary child development theories that are now the basis for the Montessori philosophy. Maria Montessori concluded that every child possesses, before birth, a pattern for his psychic unfolding, a term she called “a spiritual embryo.” This individual pattern is revealed only during the process of a child’s development. Secondly, every child passes through a specific pattern in gaining knowledge from the environment, that she called Sensitive Periods. Lastly, Maria Montessori’s notion of the Absorbent Mind, explains the unique quality and process by which each child acquires knowledge.
The Montessori Method
To implement her philosophy, Montessori developed the Montessori Method of education. By focusing on a child’s environment and the teacher who organizes it, Montessori outlined the six essential components to a Montessori environment as freedom, structure and order, reality and nature, beauty and atmosphere, the development of community life and authentic Montessori Materials.
- Freedom for the child is achieved by providing the child with activities that foster independence and encourage freedom of choice. A child is assisted in developing discipline by providing meaningful work in order to achieve both physical and emotional freedom.
- The Montessori environment is to have structure and order, in order to give each child the ability to engage in purposeful activity. A child will know where to find the work and return it when finished. Materials are placed orderly on easy to access child-sized shelves and activities offer variety without being overwhelming.
- The Montessori classroom has its basis in reality and nature, so as to reflect the real world. Equipment is authentic and child-sized and materials are limited to one of each so that the child must learn to wait if the work he wants is in use. Montessori environments often have gardens to tend and animals to care for to create a natural connection with the outside world.
- Beauty and atmosphere of the Montessori classroom is achieved through a comfortable and homelike environment. Authentic objects and real wood materials are preferred over plastic and real artwork decorates the walls alongside student created pieces.
- A great importance is placed on the development of community life in a Montessori environment. Through specific activities of the Montessori method children develop a sense of ownership and responsibility for the classroom environment and begin to feel social concern for one another. Maria Montessori purposefully created classroom environments that mix the ages of children. This is important because it allows the younger children to receive the inspiration of the older children and the older children instinctively give assistance to the younger children.
Maria Montessori developed and designed mathematically precise materials that are now known as Montessori materials. All Montessori materials follow six basic principles: meaningfulness to the child, the isolation of the difficulty in a single material, materials progress from simple to complex, materials prepare indirectly for future learning, and materials begin as concrete expressions and graduate to abstract. Additionally, Montessori materials are divided into four categories: practical life, sensorial, academic and cultural/artistic materials.
In order for materials to be effective, the appropriate Montessori material needs to presented to a child at the right moment in his development. A Montessori teacher’s role is to introduce the materials at the correct time, in the correct manner, then observe the response of the child. Repetition of an exercise occurs when the child understands the original use of the material. When a child begins to create new ways to use a material, a child is using his creativity to expand his own development.
Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori educational method, set forth her philosophy as the way education should be presented to all children. She believed that in a Montessori classroom, children can achieve self-discipline and achieve freedom for their own development when provided with the appropriate environment and materials with which to explore. Maria Montessori’s philosophy and method is popular all over the world with schools implementing the Montessori educational method for children from birth through college. The Montessori method of education strives to help each child to develop into a thoughtful, clear thinking problem solving individual who can contribute to society in a
Used with permission by the author.