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Doctor Maria Montessori and her philosophy

MARIA MONTESSORI: The Woman, The Educator

mariamontessori Maria Montessori was born August 31, 1870 in Chiaravelle, Italy. She was the first woman granted a medical degree by an Italian university. At the age of 28 she was engaged as a medical professional to assess the physical needs of "defective children." Influenced by the work of Seguin and Itard in France, Montessori designed materials and techniques which allowed the children to work in areas previously considered beyond their capacity. Montessori's great triumph came when these children took state examinations along with normal children. Her "defectives" passed the exams. Montessori concluded that if retarded children could be brought to the same academic level as normal children, something must be drastically wrong with the education of normal children.

Montessori's life work began with a group of slum children in 1907 when she opened her famous Casa Dei Bambini. Through her observations of and work with the children, she discovered their remarkable, almost effortless, ability to absorb knowledge from their surroundings. Children teach themselves! This simple and profound truth inspired Montessori's lifelong pursuit of educational reform, curriculum development, methodology, psychology, teaching and teacher training - all based on her dedication to further the self-creating process of the child.

Dr. Montessori died in Holland in 1952. Today, after over a century of international application, the Montessori method thrives in Europe, in the United States, in Canada, in Asia, in Africa and in Australia with more than 10,000 schools established since 1957. Montessori's focus on the individual child, the peaceful unfolding of self, the prepared classroom environment offer opportunity for renewal in the appreciation of family life.

An introduction to the Montessori method

This method aims for the fullest possible development of the human potential as a preparation for life. In order to educate the whole child, that child must have freedom to develop his physical, intellectual and spiritual power to the fullest. The Montessori Method is based on the natural planes of child development and also on the fact that during the development of certain organisms there come periods of special sensibility, these periods are transitory. There are Sensitive Periods for Language, Order, Refinement of the Senses and good Social Behaviour. During these Sensitive Periods, the child will become interested in certain projects which at a later time will be difficult and uninteresting. The child from 0 to 6 years, Dr. Montessori discovered, has an "absorbent mind" and during the latter half of these early years he can easily learn the ground rules of human behaviour. The result is that a child who has had experience of the Montessori environment is freer at a later stage to devote himself more exclusively to the development of his intellectual faculties.

The child

In a Montessori class, there is an orderly atmosphere of freedom. The child works independently, at his own speed. He is free to choose any work which has already been presented to him. Since it is the child's initiative that leads to his accomplishments, the child develops habits of perseverance, concentration and thoroughness. The inner challenge to discover for himself produces a competent student in later life. Play and work are combined for the child, through activity in the Montessori environment.

The teacher

The main role of the Montessori teacher is to set the child free from dependence on her direction. This is established by the Prepared Environment and the built-in control of error in the Montessori equipment. She does not impose herself on the child nor abandons him. She is the judge of when help is required, from observations of the child's needs. The aim of the teacher is to help the child to help himself. Dr. Montessori realized that the only valid impulse of learning is by the self motivation of the child. The teacher, with the aid of the scientifically designed equipment, sets up a Prepared Environment where the child will gain self motivation. It is the child who is motivated through the work itself to persist in his chosen task.

The classroom

The Prepared Environment contains Montessori materials that are graded to suit the needs of the child. Culture, embracing many subject areas such as Mathematics, Language, Geography, History, Science, Music and Art is open to the child. Practical Life Exercises are presented to the young child to aid his concentration and coordination. The Sensorial material is not designed to present new impressions to the child but to bring order to those impressions which are received daily. There is a non-competitive atmosphere in a Montessori class and the only competition comes from within the child.

Dr. Montessori said, "In this environment the children develop the ability of living together in society; they make social contacts. Such an environment, because of the numerous social contacts it affords, becomes a little world on its own."

Children spontaneously work in groups in the Montessori classroom to help each other. One will very often see an older child approach a younger child - who is having difficulty with a piece of apparatus - enquiring whether he needs help and giving it when required. Each child is filled with satisfaction working at his own rate of progress.