Dr. Maria Montessori was born in Chiaravalle, Italy. She attended engineering school in her early teens and then went to medical school to become the first woman Doctor of Medicine in 1896. During her practice, she discovered that environment was a much more important factor in early childhood development than was previously believed. She designed learning materials and observed children as they used them. These materials along with a specifically prepared environment, and trained teachers led to what is known today as the Montessori Method of education.
Her main contributions related to raising and educating children are in the following areas:
- Preparing the most natural and life supporting environment for the child
- Observing the child living freely in this environment
- Continually adapting the environment in order that the child may fulfill his greatest potential — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Dr. Montessori was invited to the USA by Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and others. Dr. Montessori spoke at Carnegie Hall in 1915. She was invited to set up a classroom at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, where spectators watched twenty-one children, all new to this Montessori method, behind a glass wall for four months. The only two gold medals awarded for education went to this class, and the education of young children was altered forever.
During World War II, Dr. Montessori was forced into exile from Italy because of her anti-fascist views and lived and worked in India. Her concern with education for peace intensified and she was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Since her death, interest in Dr. Montessori’s methods has continued to spread throughout the world. Her message to those who emulated her was always to turn one’s attention to the child, to “follow the child”. It is because of this basic tenet, and the observation guidelines left by her, that Dr. Montessori’s ideas will never become obsolete.
Dr. Montessori was often heard saying, “I studied my children, and they taught me how to teach them.” This may seem common for us to do today, but Dr. Montessori was the first to view education in this manner. She pioneered other attributes of what is modern education today. A system of learning materials for Math for very young children was developed which allowed four and five year olds to explore their interests where otherwise were told they were too young. Montessori was also the first to introduce child-sized tables and chairs made for the students. She believed that the learning environment was just as important as the learning itself. Because of this belief, her schools were often peaceful, orderly places, where the children valued their space for concentration and for the process of learning.
The Montessori Method allows children to discover and learn from their own experiences and is based on principles of observation, order, construction and independence in the prepared environment.
In a Montessori classroom, children choose their own activities, and hence remain interested and engaged in what they are doing. A Montessori teacher is always close at hand, observing, and preparing to help with the next lesson or question. A Montessori class is also very clean and tidy. Children treat their materials with care and are required to put them in their proper place once they have completed their work.
A Montessori education means that a child has a very special guide for his/her self-led journey. Teachers are Montessori certified after completing 100’s of hours of rigorous training. They are skilled at asking questions rather than providing ready-made answers. They know how to build a child’s self esteem and confidence. The environment and method provide discipline while the Montessori teacher provides guidance.
In Montessori classrooms, teachers address the needs of individual children who are learning through practice with hands-on materials. The teacher introduces learning materials systematically, depending on the child’s developmental needs. Classrooms are designed to promote self discipline, independence, and responsibility. Academically, children develop a foundation in language and math skills, physical and cultural geography, physical sciences, history, music and art. They also learn practical life skills cooking, carpentry, sewing, and cleaning. One of the most important aspects of a Montessori Classroom is the teacher’s respect for the dignity of the child, no matter how young the child is.
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