Maria Montessori (1870-1952)
“Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.”
Maria Montessori defined the essence of teaching as guiding children through hands-on activities that stimulate their intelligence. According to her ideas, the teacher’s role is to assist children in the discovery process, so the children of today can make the discoveries of tomorrow. She believed that we should perceive children as future adults and help them grow and evolve in the right way. Montessori was well aware of the importance of teachers encouraging students to improve and make discoveries. According to her belief, the future generation of students should know what their teachers have taught them and be able to go a step further.
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician, educator, and visionary, renowned for her Montessori educational learning method. Since she opened her first Montessori school in Rome, thousands of others schools based on her educational approach opened worldwide. Even though her initial interest and education were in the field of medicine later on she developed an interest in pedagogy, occupying herself with teaching methods and educational theory. In the beginning, Montessori’s interest was directed to the improvement of teaching methods for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. When she was appointed co-director of the new training institute for special education teachers, her scientific approach made all the difference. She discovered and implemented the teaching methods that worked best and had a huge success. Montessori used puzzles and learning materials of her own design to foster children’s natural desire to learn, providing them with the opportunity to choose their materials and learn freely.
Maria Montessori was born on August 31, 1870, in Chiaravalle, Italy, and died on May 6, 1952, in Noordwijk aan Zee, Netherlands.
Montessori was the first woman in Italy to graduate in medicine from the University of Rome in 1896. Her interest in the educational problems of intellectually disabled children began at the psychiatric clinic of the University of Rome, where she was appointed as a doctor. A year later, Montessori’s work with children at the clinic started to gain quite a reputation. Therefore, she was asked to address the National Medical Congress in Turin, where she clearly stated her opinion that the lack of adequate stimulation for children with mental and emotional illnesses was the cause of their delinquency. Montessori also addressed the National Pedagogical Congress with her idea of social reform and progress through education, and the foundation of medical-pedagogical institutes along with specific training for teachers working with special needs children.
In 1907 Montessori opened a preschool for children aged 3 to 6 years, known as the “Children’s House” where she applied her methods now to children of normal intelligence. Her educational approach and method were recognized worldwide as Montessori education. She traveled throughout Europe, India, and the United States teaching, writing, and founding teacher-training programs. She left Italy in 1934 because of Fascist rule. After years of travel and research, she settled in the Netherlands where she died in 1952. Montessori left a life-long legacy of social reform through education. Her belief in the creative potential of children, their motivation to learn, and the right of each child to be regarded as an individual, shaped the educational system we know today.
Maria Montessori developed the Montessori method based on students’ self-directed actions, hands-on learning, and cooperative play. She integrated her ideas and beliefs into the Montessori method allowing students to make creative learning choices with age-appropriate activities.
Montessori’s philosophy was based on self-education as the key to educational training. She thought that teachers should only provide guidance and demonstration of the specific didactic materials, leaving students to do the rest and come to their own conclusions. Montessori’s goal was to develop students’ potential so they can become capable, responsible, tolerant, and respectful citizens who understand that learning is a lifetime commitment.
The Montessori method is incorporated into the following 5 principles:
- Respect students
- There should be mutual respect between teachers and students;
- Teachers give students the freedom to make choices, to do things for themselves, and to learn for themselves;
- Teachers encourage peaceful conflict resolution;
- Students learn at their own pace;
- Students are allowed to follow their interests;
- Teachers observe without judgment.
- Students have an absorbent mind
- Students absorb knowledge from the world around them;
- Students grasp information from their everyday world through their senses;
- Students are capable of receiving, processing, and remembering everything surrounding them in their environment.
- Students experience sensitive periods
- There are periods when students are more ready to learn particular skills known as sensitive periods;
- Teachers must identify sensitive periods in their students and provide the resources for children to flourish during this time;
- Sensitive periods when students show special interests and are eager about learning a specific area are known as “learning windows”;
- Students learn best in a prepared environment
- Students learn best in a prepared environment enabling them to do things for themselves;
- Students’ classrooms should promote freedom to enable the students to study materials of their choice
- The learning environment should be student-centered;
- Teachers prepare the classroom by creating available resources and experiences into 5 key study areas: practical life, sensory, language, mathematics, and culture.
- Students acquire knowledge through auto education
- Students are capable of educating themselves;
- Teachers provide the learning environment, guidance, and support for students to educate themselves;
- Students learn independently;
- Teachers encourage work and play as some of the most important aspects of student’s growth.
Maria Montessori’s contributions have made a tremendous impact on education, teaching techniques, schools, and students around the world. Montessori methods to this day encourage students to get involved in educational activities through their own designs. Private Montessori school systems are booming, while other schools successfully use her teaching ideas in their day-to-day activities. Her unique, student-centered approach appreciates the human spirit and the student’s growth as a whole—physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. Teachers can implement the Montessori Method in the classroom to enrich daily educational practice by:
- Valuing students’ individuality;
- Encouraging students to learn in different ways, adapt to all learning styles, and advance through the curriculum when ready;
- Guiding students through an individualized learning plan;
- Helping students to develop order, coordination, attention, and individuality;
- Designing the classroom, materials, and daily routines in a way that supports the student’s individuality and ability to educate themselves;
- Creating a close and caring community in a multi-age classroom where older students act as mentors and role models, and younger students feel supported and grow confident toward the challenges that await them;
- Setting parameters for students to enjoy freedom within limits as active participants in the decision-making process;
- Understand that internal satisfaction drives students’ curiosity and interest resulting in a joyous learning process that lasts a lifetime;
- Supporting students in becoming active knowledge seekers;
- Providing a learning environment where students have the freedom and the tools to find the answers to their questions;
- Initiating self-correction and self-assessment as essential parts of the learning process, critical thinking, recognizing, correcting, and learning from mistakes;
- Guiding students to make connections, and become self-assured, enthusiastic, self-directed learners able to think critically, and work cooperatively.
Montessori had a unique perspective on the role of the teacher in the educational process. According to her belief, the teachers’ role is to:
- Guide children in their learning;
- Don’t insert themselves too much into the natural learning process of the students;
- Facilitate not lecture;
- Encourage students to learn by placing them at the center of the experience;
- Provide suitable learning materials to each student after close study in the specifically prepared learning environment;
- Instruct and show learning activities whilst offering freedom for the students to learn in their own way;
- Manage classroom behaviors by showing ongoing respect for all students and their work, by noticing and using students’ sensitive periods, interests, and skills to plan activities;
- Divert inappropriate conduct to meaningful tasks.
Another well-known characteristic of Montessori education is the multi-age classroom. Montessori was against the idea that all students of the same age develop and grow equally. Therefore, she initiated the idea of multi-age classrooms enabling students to work more effectively at their natural pace. Montessori classrooms are usually organized in 3-year age ranges. The supporters of Montessori’s idea believe this helps students to acquire better social skills and to grow academically, in a supportive, non-competitive learning environment. Here’s how the Montessori classroom idea can be beneficial in practice:
- Teachers create the classroom environment in a way that best facilitates and encourages the learning process;
- Teachers try to minimize things that may over-stimulate and confuse the students;
- Teachers carefully choose the displayed artwork set at students’ eye level;
- The classroom is quiet, calm, and organized, and the walls are painted in neutral shades;
- Teachers use resources and materials (natural and real-life) that appeal to all senses (sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing);
- The classroom is divided into different learning areas with enough space for students to move around without distracting others;
Maria Montessori despised conventional teaching and classrooms, instead, she encouraged teaching with specific materials in a beneficial learning environment. Her love and admiration for children were indisputable. She dedicated her entire life to making sure that children are at the center of education and teachers are the ones saying: “Courage, my dear, courage! You are a new man that must adapt to this new world. Go on triumphantly. I am here to help you”.