The discoveries made by Maria Montessori, MD, can help parents and teachers in many situations. Her advice has always been to: "Follow the Child." We focus here on information which can be used in school or at home for children from three to six years.
Supposing I said there was a planet without schools or teachers, where study was unknown, and yet the inhabitants—doing nothing but living and walking about—came to know all things, to carry in their minds the whole of learning; would you not think I was romancing? Well, just this, which seems so fanciful as to be nothing but the invention of a fertile imagination, is a reality. It is the child's way of learning. This is the path he follows. He learns everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so he passes little by little from the unconscious to the conscious, treading always in the paths of joy and love.
—Dr. Maria Montessori, MD
The most important consideration in deciding to set up a Montessori class is the teacher. A non-Montessori-trained teacher can no more be expected to teach "Montessori" than a biologist could be expected to teach French. Using the Montessori approach to teach is extremely challenging, but equally exciting and rewarding.
Montessori schools have proven successful all over the world, with all kinds of children (blind, gifted, learning disabled, wealthy, poor, etc.) and in many different environments (from refugee camps and slums to elegant schools in beautiful private homes).
There are many kinds of Montessori teacher training experiences, from distance or correspondence courses (useful for parents and teachers who are interested in an introduction to Montessori, but usually not for a teacher in charge of a whole class of children) to graduate school programs.
The following specific elements of Montessori philosophy that one might find in a Montessori class are based on the assumption that the teacher has had the most exacting Montessori teacher training course available.
A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY
OF DR. MARIA MONTESSORI, MD
Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870. In her work at the University of Rome's psychiatric clinic, Dr. Montessori developed an interest in the treatment of children and for several years wrote and spoke on their behalf. At age twenty-eight, she became the director of a school for mentally-disabled children. After two years under her guidance, these children, who formerly had been considered uneducable, took a school examination along with normal children and passed successfully. Educators called Dr. Montessori a miracle worker. What was her response? If mentally disabled children could be brought to the level of normal children, Dr. Montessori wanted to study the potential of "normal" children. She went back to school to study anthropology and psychology and finally, in 1907, was asked to take charge of fifty children from the dirty, desolate streets of the San Lorenz slum in the city of Rome.
Like others I had believed that it was necessary to encourage a child by means of some exterior reward that would flatter his baser sentiments, such as gluttony, vanity, or self-love, in order to foster in him a spirit of work and peace. And I was astonished when I learned that a child who is permitted to educate himself really gives up these lower instincts. I then urged the teachers to cease handing out the ordinary prizes and punishments, which were no longer suited to our children, and to confine themselves to directing them gently in their work.
Dr. Montessori was then invited to set up a classroom at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco so that more interested people could observe her methods. A room was built with a glass wall behind which spectators sat and watched the children. Twenty-one children, all completely new to a Montessori environment, attended for four months. The observation seats were filled every day and at noon, when the children served lunch to their classmates and washed up afterwards, there was standing room only in the audience. The two gold medals awarded for education at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition both went to the Montessori class.
After W.W.II Dr. Montessori's concern with education for peace intensified and she was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She instituted the study of Cosmic Education for the child from six to twelve years of age, since she could see that in meeting the needs of the child, the needs of the world would also be met. "Cosmic Education" is the child's gradual discovery, throughout the whole of childhood, of the interrelatedness of all things on earth, in the past, in the present, and in the future
Invited to the USA by Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and others, Dr. Montessori made an appearance at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1915. The following is from a 1913 letter from A. Graham Bell:Dear Dr. Montessori,
On behalf of the Montessori Educational Association of America I have the honor to inform you that we have elected you as its first Honorary member and to express to you in this way our deep appreciation of your great work for humanity.
—Alexander Graham Bell, 1913
. When the children had completed an absorbing bit of work, they appeared rested and deeply pleased. It almost seemed as if a road had opened up within their souls that led to all their latent powers, revealing the better part of themselves. They exhibited a great affability to everyone, put themselves out to help others and seemed full of good will.
— Maria Montessori, MD