Theorist in the Spotlight: Maria Montessori
Maria Montessori played an integral role in modern early childhood education
Redefining the gender norms of her time, Maria Montessori is an Italian physician, who was the first woman to graduate as a doctor in Italy. She faced significant scrutiny from her peers where she was isolated in her practical classes. This resulted in her having to practice on cadavers after hours, as a woman being in presence of a naked male body was frowned upon. However, despite these challenges she graduated with honours in 1896.
We discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being.
From 1896 to 1901, Montessori worked with and researched children that were labelled as ‘phrenasthenic’ – in modern terms, children who are experiencing cognitive delays, illness or disabilities. During her work, she began to travel, study, speak and publish both nationally and internationally. During her time in Rome, Montessori, spent time visiting asylums in which she observed children with a disability. This was fundamental for her future educational work as she felt children required a more specific and organisation system to their day, in other words routines.
It is not true that I invented what is called the Montessori Method... I have studied the child; I have taken what the child has given me and expressed it, and that is what is called the Montessori Method.
In 1906 Montessori was invited to oversee the care and education of a group of children of working parents. This took place in an apartment building for low-income families in Rome. Montessori accepted as she was keen to see how her approaches and methods would work on ‘mentally normal children’. From this, Casa dei Bambini or Children’s House, was opened on the 6th of January, enrolling 50 to 60 children.
While Maria Montessori did not directly work with the children, the day to day care was provided under her guidance. Montessori’s job was to oversee the teaching within the classroom, research, and a range of other professional activities. During her time at Casa dei Bambini, Montessori recorded some significant observations in children during their play, including deep concentration, repetition during activities and a sensitivity to order in their environment. Based on these observations, she implemented several practices which became the hallmark of her philosophy and method.
Travel stories teach geography; insect stories lead the child into natural science; and so on. The teacher, in short, can use reading to introduce her pupils to the most varied subjects; and the moment they have been thus started, they can go on to any limit guided by the single passion for reading.
First, she changed heavy furniture with child-sized tables and chairs that were light enough so that the children could move them around with ease. Material was placed on shelves that were always accessible. She extended the range of practical activities, including gardening, pet care, cooking, hand washing and a variety of exercises.
From her continuous observation of children, Maria Montessori developed a teaching method that revolutionised the field of early childhood education. Her method puts emphasis on self-directed learning activities, which encourages hands-on learning and collaborative play.
Within a Montessori classroom, educators set up different environments to meet the individual needs of students. These are separated into three developmentally meaningful age groups: 2–2.5 years, 2.5–6 years, and 6–12 years. Within each of these areas’ children learn through a range of activities that involve exploration, manipulations, order, repetition, abstraction and communication.
The first two age groups educators encourage children to use their sense to explore and manipulate materials in their environment. Within the last age group, children are encouraged to use more abstract concepts based on their understanding of reasoning, imagination, and creativity.
The Montessori Method is based on the idea that children learn best when the environment supports their natural desire to acquire skills and knowledge. Furthering on this, children are taught how to support and regulate their social interactions with peers, whilst develop their freedom to negotiate, share, mediate and compromise.
And that friends, is Maria Montessori in a nutshell. Can you see how much of an influence she has had upon our work in early childhood education? We are using theory each and every day and we may not even realise it.
References & Further Reading:
The awesome blog with tons of ideas: How We Montessori
Quotes by Brainy Quote