What is Montessori?
The Montessori method is more an understanding of how children learn than a curriculum, although we certainly have an extensive curriculum. Dr. Montessori’s medical career focused mostly on pediatrics and psychology, and she was a practicing physician, not a teacher, at the University of Rome. Because she was a scientist she placed a great emphasis on observing children and approached education with no pre-conceived ideas. Still, she was considered a leader in the field of early childhood education and mentored various other experts in child psychology and education including Anna Freud, Jean Paget, and Erik Erikson.
Dr. Montessori believed that children have a natural inclination to learn, and through her research she found that when children were put in a setting with their peers where learning opportunities were available, they learned everything from reading and writing to botany without official lessons.
Children are grouped in classes with other children in three year groups, based on the Planes of Development Dr. Montessori observed. In our school we have a Primary class for children just under three years through kindergarten and children in first through 3rd grade are in our Elementary class. No child is the same age developmentally in each academic or emotional area, so the mixed age grouping allows each child to progress at his or her own rate.
Did You Know?
Alexander Graham Bell, noted inventor, and his wife, Mabel, founded the Montessori Education Association in 1913. They also provided financial support directly to Dr. Montessori and helped establish the first Montessori class in Canada and one of the first in the United States. Cool, huh?
Founding Montessori Education
Maria Montessori was born on August 31, 1870 in Italy. She was a physician, educator, philosopher, humanitarian and devout Catholic. Best known for her philosophy and the Montessori method of education of children from birth to adolescence, her educational method is in use today in thousands of Montessori schools and dozens of teacher education programs in a number of public as well as private schools throughout the world.
As the first woman physician to graduate from the University of Rome, Dr. Maria Montessori became involved with education as a doctor treating children labeled as retarded. Then in 1907 she was invited to open a childcare center for the children of desperately poor families in the San Lorenzo slums of Rome.
She called it the Casa dei Bambini or “A Children’s House,” and based the program on her observations that young children learn best in a homelike setting, filled with developmentally appropriate materials that provide experiences contributing to the growth of self-motivated, independent learners.
As the first woman physician in Italy, Dr. Montessori was unprepared to teach children, but found herself in the position to do just that, and with poor children who were thought of by most as ‘idiots’. As any good scientist, she spent time observing her subjects, and discovered, that not only were they not ‘idiots, but were actually extraordinary individuals. She went on to revolutionize the educational world with her observations. Contrary to popular opinion, she discovered that children were not simply small adults with empty brains that needed to be filled, but were in fact, uniquely designed to absorb knowledge and imitate language and culture. She found that given the proper environment, with furnishings and tools that were appropriately sized, her ‘idiots’ exhibited ‘normal’ behavior and she wondered why normal children were not more advanced.
She believed her calling was from God and it was her mission to free children from the tyranny of the misguided educational notions of her day. She trained other adults to observe children and use the materials she developed. Soon there were dozens of Montessori Schools in Europe. By the time of her death in May of 1952, her understanding of how children learn had become the model for educational classrooms throughout the world.