What and Who is Montessori?

Montessori Parent Education

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Dr. Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952) developed the Montessori method of education in Italy around the turn of the century.  Interested in the sciences from an early age, Dr. Montessori was the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School. She joined the psychiatric clinic at the university and there pioneered educational methodology for the children in the clinic.  Her results were so remarkable that she turned her focus to education, studying philosophy, psychology, and anthropology. She was soon given the opportunity to try her methodology with children who were more typical in their development.

The Montessori method is based upon her work and observations with these two diverse groups of children.  Educators of the time were impressed by the children’s incredible academic progress and were equally amazed by their calm, thoughtful, and concentrated behaviors. In fact, visitors often noted that the children worked as if the adults did not exist. This offered a stark contrast to the educational mode of the day which was quite teacher directed and controlled.  Word of Dr. Montessori’s success quickly spread, training courses were established, and the method began to spread.  Today, the North American Montessori Teacher’s Association (NAMTA) estimates there are over 4500 Montessori schools in the United States and over 20,000 worldwide.

Dr. Montessori believed education to be based upon a balance between the environment, learning, and development.  Her educational method is based upon 3 key components: the child, the environment including materials, and the guide (teacher).  The child comes to the educational experience full of potential, empowered with a drive for activity, and graced with an “absorbent mind.”  The environment must be carefully prepared to meet the developmental needs of the three year age spans served by each classroom and identified by Montessori as “planes of development” (0-3, 3-6, 6-9 and 9-12). While acting as a facilitator or guide, the teacher is responsible for preparing the environment, supporting the development of community, and offering social and academic experiences and lessons.  Learning comes from purposeful work, not lectures or lessons.  Children construct their knowledge rather than being “taught” in the traditional sense of the word.  While lessons are prepared for children, Montessori guides always strive to help children become actively engaged in “work” that allows them to make discoveries and draw their own conclusions. The children have the freedom to follow interests, while developing the discipline and organization to construct their own knowledge.  Montessori schools carefully nurture the whole child.  The method is grounded within an ever expanding community allowing social and emotional skills to develop naturally and through targeted lessons called “grace and courtesy.” For the youngest students, community begins within their own classroom.  As the child ages, it broadens to the wider school, the outside community, and the world.  Using the perfect combination of freedom, independence, and planned educational experiences, each child can reach for personal goals and potential.