Dr. Maria Montessori, the creator of what is called “The Montessori Method of Education,” based this new education on her scientific observations of young children’s behavior.
As the first woman physician in Italy, Montessori became involved with education as a doctor treating children labeled as retarded. Then in 1907 she was invited to open a day care center for the children of desperately poor families in the San Lorenzo slums of Rome.
She called it 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.
Montessori’s dynamic theories included such revolutionary premises as:
- Children are to be respected as different from adults and as individuals who are different from one another.
- Children create themselves through purposeful activity.
- The most important years for learning are from birth to age six.
- Children possess unusual sensitivity and mental powers for absorbing and learning from their environment, which includes people as well as materials.
She carried her message throughout the world, including the United States as early as 1912. After an enthusiastic first response, interest in the U.S. waned until a reintroduction of the method in the mid-1950′s, followed by the organization of the American Montessori Society in 1960.
How Does it Work?
Each Montessori class, from toddlers through high school, operates on the principle of freedom within limits. Every program has its set of ground rules which differs from age to age, but is always based on core Montessori beliefs – respect for each other, and for the environment.
Children are free to work at their own pace, either alone or with others, with materials they have chosen. The teacher relies on his or her observations of the children to determine which new activities and materials he may introduce to an individual child or to a small or large group. The aim is to encourage active, self directed learning and to strike a balance of individual mastery with small group collaboration within the whole group community.
Montessori is a philosophy with the fundamental tenet that a child learns best within a social environment which supports each individual’s unique development.
How is Creativity Encouraged?
Creativity flourishes in an atmosphere of acceptance and trust. Montessorians recognize that each child, from toddler to teenager, learns and expresses himself in a very individual way.
Music, art, storytelling, movement, and drama are part of every American Montessori program, but there are other things particular to the Montessori environment which encourages creative development: many materials which stimulate interest and involvement; and emphasis on the sensory aspect of experience; and the opportunity for both verbal and non-verbal modes of learning.
How Can a “Real” Montessori Classroom be Identified?
Since Montessori is a word in the public domain, it is possible for any individual or institution to claim to be Montessori. An authentic Montessori classroom must have these basic characteristics at all levels:
- Teachers educated in the Montessori philosophy and methodology for the age level they are teaching, who have the ability and dedication to put the key concepts into practice.
- A partnership established with the family. The family is considered an integral part of the individual’s total development.
- A multi-aged, multi-graded heterogeneous grouping of students.
- A diverse set of Montessori materials, activities and experiences which are designed to foster physical, intellectual, creative, and social independence.
- A schedule which allows large blocks of time to problem solve, to see connections in knowledge and to create new ideas.
What Happens When a Child Leaves Montessori?
Montessori children are unusually adaptable. They have learned to work independently and in groups. Since they’ve been encouraged to make decisions from an early age, these children are problem solvers who can make choices and manage their time well.
They have also been encouraged to exchange ideas and to discuss their work freely with others and good communication skills ease the way in new settings.
Research has shown that the best predictor of future success is a sense of self esteem. Montessori programs, based on self-directed, non-competitive activities, help children develop good self-images and the confidence to face challenges and change with optimism.
AMERICAN MONTESSORI SOCIETY
281 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10010