Montessori education is based on the understanding that each of us grows intellectually in a deeply innate and organic way. By starting from this premise, we provide young people with the space to rise to their greatest potential—now and throughout their lives—by empowering them to purposefully participate in their own education.
This comprehensive approach to education was developed over the first half of the 20th century by Dr. Maria Montessori with the fundamental belief that a child learns best within a social environment that supports and respects each individual’s unique development. The Montessori environment contains specially designed sensorial “materials for development”. Under the guidance of a trained teacher, children in a Montessori classroom learn by making discoveries with the materials, thereby cultivating concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning.
The primary goal of a Montessori program is to help each student reach his or her full potential in all areas of life. Activities promote the development of social skills, emotional growth, and physical coordination as well as cognitive preparation. The curriculum, under the direction of a specially trained teacher, allows students time to experience the joy of learning, develop self-esteem, and provides experiences from which students construct their own knowledge.
Montessori teachers present lessons to individuals or small groups of students and limit lessons to brief and very clear presentations. The goal is to capture their attention and spark their interest, intriguing them enough that they will independently explore, practice, and master the lessons.
Montessori classrooms are organized to encompass a three-year developmental span with each program designed to address the characteristics of that stage. The aim is to encourage active, self-directed learning.
The three-year span in each program allows more experienced children to share what they have learned while reinforcing their own learning. Because this peer group learning is intrinsic to Montessori, there is often more conversation – and language experiences – in the Montessori classroom.
Montessori teachers typically work with one, two or small groups of students at a time, advising, presenting a new lesson, or quietly observing the class at work. Teachers closely monitor each student’s progress. Working with each student for two or three years, they come to know students’ strengths and weaknesses, interests and personalities extremely well.
The Montessori teacher functions as a designer of the environment, resource person, role model, demonstrator, record-keeper, and meticulous observer of each student.
Students can be found working in all areas of the classroom, be it alone or in small or large groups. Students are given clear expectations, correct procedures, and a formal system to help keep track of what has been accomplished and what needs to be completed.
Montessori classrooms are organized into several curriculum areas, including: language arts (reading, literature, grammar, creative writing, spelling and handwriting); mathematics and geometry; everyday living skills; geography, history, science, art, music, and movement. Each area is made up of a wide variety of materials on open display, ready for use as the students are ready for them.
The whole learning environment – the classroom, materials and social climate – is designed to facilitate exploration by the child and the growth of responsibly independent learners.
Creativity and imagination are nurtured in a Montessori atmosphere of acceptance and trust. Students, from toddler to teenager, are able to learn and express themselves in very individual ways.
Music, art, storytelling, movement and drama are integrated throughout the curriculum. When information is processed in an active, musical, or artistic way—such as with graphs, posters, drawings, mapmaking, songs, and performance—the knowledge becomes permanent and strengthens the creative part of the brain.
Born in Italy in 1870 into an affluent family, Maria Montessori came of age in an industrial era devoid of any recognition of the rights of children and only a shade more attentive to the plight of women. The circumstances did little, however, to deter her.
In 1896 she became the first woman in Italy to take the degree of Doctor of Medicine. In this same year she championed the cause of Italy’s working women at a feminist congress in Berlin. A few years later, she gave her support to a movement directed against the exploitation of child labor. For Maria Montessori, a lifelong commitment to society’s voiceless, powerless, and disenfranchised members had commenced.
A decade later Montessori’s work for the Psychiatric Clinic in the University of Rome took her into the city’s asylums where she was introduced to the “idiot children” who were housed with the insane. After much observation and study, Montessori concluded that the children’s mental challenges were pedagogical rather than medical in nature.
From here, Montessori’s conviction that the neglected children were capable and deserving of much more intellectually and spiritually, led to the creation of the famous Casa de Bambini (Children’s House) in the slums of Rome in 1912. It was there the children revealed to her that they were not little adults, and that each and every student demonstrated unique tendencies and sensitivities in relation to their development and the school’s environment.
Montessori set out to provide a special setting, a prepared environment, specifically suited to the needs of the children. From the size of the furniture to the sensorial nature and practicality of the materials to the absence of motivation by rewards and punishments to the indirect role of the teacher, the message to the children and the world beyond was clear: This is a place that respects and attends to the whole of a child’s personality and potential.
Montessori began to construct a grand vision of the child. For her, children came to represent the vital paths to peace and justice and morality. Bearing witness during both world wars to the fury and impact of modern warfare, Montessori looked to the child and education as the source of hope and salvation. By meeting the needs of the child, the needs of the world would also be met.
As WWII approached, Montessori set off throughout Europe and India as an emissary for peace. Forced to leave Italy in 1934, she traveled to Barcelona, Spain, but had to be rescued there by a British cruiser in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War. She proceeded to open the Montessori Training Centre in Laren, Netherlands, in 1938, and founded a series of teacher training courses in India in 1939.
When India entered World War II in 1940, she and her son, Mario Montessori, were interned as enemy aliens, but permitted to continue conducting training courses. In 1947 she founded the Montessori Center in London and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times—in 1949, 1950, and 1951.
Maria Montessori died in Noordwijk, Holland, in 1952, but her work lives on through the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), the organization she founded to carry on her work.
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