Maria Montessori

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Montessori on the cover of Time MagazineMaria Tecla Artemesia Montessori (August 31, 1870 – May 6, 1952) was an Italian physician and educator, a noted humanitarian and devout Roman Catholic best known for the philosophy of education that bears her name, and her writing on scientific pedagogy. Her educational method is in use today in public and private schools throughout the world.

Montessori's theory and philosophy of education were initially heavily influenced by the work of Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, Édouard Séguin, Friedrich Fröbel, and Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, all of whom emphasised sensory exploration and manipulatives. Montessori's first work with mentally disabled children, at the Orthophrenic School in 1900–1901, used the methods of Itard and Seguin, training children in physical activities such as walking and the use of a spoon, training their senses by exposure to sights, smells, and tactile experiences, and introducing letters in tactile form. These activities developed into the Montessori "Sensorial" materials.

The first Casa

The first CasaIn 1906 Montessori was invited to oversee the care and education of a group of children of working parents in a new apartment building for low-income families in the San Lorenzo district in Rome. Montessori was interested in applying her work and methods to mentally normal children, and she accepted. The name Casa dei Bambini, or Children's House, was suggested to Montessori, and the first Casa opened on January 6, 1907, enrolling 50 or 60 children between the ages of two or three and six or seven.

At first, the classroom was equipped with a teacher's table and blackboard, a stove, small chairs, armchairs, and group tables for the children, and a locked cabinet for the materials that Montessori had developed at the Orthophrenic School. Activities for the children included personal care such as dressing and undressing, care of the environment such as dusting and sweeping, and caring for the garden. The children were also shown the use of the materials Montessori had developed. Montessori herself, occupied with teaching, research, and other professional activities, oversaw and observed the classroom work, but did not teach the children directly. Day-to-day teaching and care were provided, under Montessori's guidance, by the building porter's daughter.

Inside an early Montessori schoolIn this first classroom, Montessori observed behaviors in these young children which formed the foundation of her educational method. She noted episodes of deep attention and concentration, multiple repetitions of activity, and a sensitivity to order in the environment. Given free choice of activity, the children showed more interest in practical activities and Montessori's materials than in toys provided for them, and were surprisingly unmotivated by sweets and other rewards. Over time, she saw a spontaneous self-discipline emerge.

Based on her observations, Montessori implemented a number of practices that became hallmarks of her educational philosophy and method. She replaced the heavy furniture with child-sized tables and chairs light enough for the children to move, and placed child-sized materials on low, accessible shelves. She expanded the range of practical activities such as sweeping and personal care to include a wide variety of exercises for care of the environment and the self, including flower arranging, hand washing, gymnastics, care of pets, and cooking. She also included large open air sections in the classroom encouraging children to come and go as they please in the room's different areas and lessons.

In 1946, at the age of 76, Montessori returned to Amsterdam, but she spent the next six years travelling in Europe and India. She gave a training course in London in 1946, and in 1947 opened a training institute there, the Montessori Centre. After a few years this centre became independent of Montessori and continued as the St. Nicholas Training Centre. Also in 1947, she returned to Italy to re-establish the Opera Montessori and gave two more training courses. Later that year she returned to India and gave courses in Adyar and Ahmedabad. These courses led to the book The Absorbent Mind, in which Montessori described the development of the child from birth onwards and presented the concept of the Four Planes of Development. In 1948 Il Metodo was revised again and published in English as The Discovery of the Child. In 1949 she gave a course in Pakistan and the Montessori Pakistan Association was founded.

An early Montessori classroomIn 1949 Montessori returned to Europe and attended the 8th International Montessori Congress in Sanremo, Italy, where a model classroom was demonstrated. The same year, the first training course for birth to three years of age, called the Scuola Assistienti all'infanzia (Montessori School for Assistants to Infancy) was established. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Montessori was also awarded the French Legion of Honor, Officer of the Dutch Order of Orange Nassau, and received an Honorary Doctorate of the University of Amsterdam. In 1950 she visited Scandinavia, represented Italy at the UNESCO conference in Florence, presented at the 29th international training course in Perugia, gave a national course in Rome, published a fifth edition of Il Metodo with the new title La Scoperta del Bambino (The Discovery of the Child), and was again nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1951 she participated in the 9th International Montessori Congress in London, gave a training course in Innsbruck, was nominated for the third time for the Nobel Peace Prize. Montessori died of a cerebral hemorrhage on May 6, 1952 at the age of 81 in Noordwijk aan Zee, the Netherlands.

Maria Montessori & her son MarioMontessori continued to develop her pedagogy and her model of human development as she expanded her work and extended it to older children. She saw human behavior as guided by universal, innate characteristics in human psychology which her son and collaborator Mario Montessori identified as "human tendencies" in 1957. In addition, she observed four distinct periods, or "planes", in human development, extending from birth to six years, from six to twelve, from twelve to eighteen, and from eighteen to twenty-four. She saw different characteristics, learning modes, and developmental imperatives active in each of these planes, and called for educational approaches specific to each period. Over the course of her lifetime, Montessori developed pedagogical methods and materials for the first two planes, from birth to age twelve, and wrote and lectured about the third and fourth planes. Maria created over 4,000 Montessori classrooms across the world and her books were translated in many different languages for the training of new educators. Her methods are installed in hundreds of public and private schools across the United States.