Who was Maria Montessori? Dr. Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator. She was the first woman to practice medicine in Italy, having graduated from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Rome in 1896. She developed her method of education over 50 years of intense, detailed scientific observation and direct work with children of all racial, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.
How does Montessori support the child? Dr. Montessori referred to the young child as having an absorbent mind. Children literally absorb information of all kinds from their environment effortlessly. Montessori believed that to develop the full potential of a young child, one must appeal to his instinctive love of and need for purposeful activity. The role of the adult, then, is to carefully prepare a beautiful, rich environment that allows children to meet their natural needs for movement, language development, independence, order, security and discipline. Montessori developed unique teaching materials that enable children to reinforce learning through hands-on experience and employ all of their senses to investigate their surroundings. Her method is designed to help children with their task of self-construction as they grow from childhood to maturity. It succeeds because it draws its principles from the natural development of the child.
How does the Montessori classroom work? In the primary Montessori program, children from 3-6 years of age all share the same classroom. While the younger children benefit from their older classmates who act as role models, the older children benefit from the opportunity to help their younger friends. Each child usually has the same teacher for three years. The children’s innate passion for learning is encouraged by giving them opportunities to engage in spontaneous, purposeful activities with the guidance of a trained adult. Children are free to choose any material to which they have been introduced, learning at their own pace and rhythm according to their individual capabilities in a non-competitive atmosphere. As children achieve success, they experience the pleasure of learning and develop concentration along with self-discipline.
More Activities in the Classroom Because Dr. Montessori observed that young children are especially receptive to acquiring language, the basic nomenclature of biology, geometry, physical science and geography are also presented. In the Montessori classroom, the experience is given first and language follows. The children gain an awareness of the physical world around them by exploring everything from leaf shapes to geometric solids to concepts such as sinking and floating. Parents are often surprised when a child can name the countries of Africa or explain the difference between an isthmus and a peninsula. Children also gain understanding of and kinship with different peoples of the world by looking at the basic needs of all humans (food, shelter, clothing) and seeing how each culture meets those needs. Along with compassion, the Montessori experience develops children’s awareness of their own feelings and sensitivity to the feelings of others.
Summary Montessori education is an aid for life; an education that encourages independence, refines the child’s natural tools for learning and fosters self-motivation. Montessori goes beyond the academic disciplines; it stresses responsibility and consideration for others. And, importantly, it prepares children to embrace life experiences openly, enthusiastically and with a sense of joy for discovery.