Who was Montessori?
Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870. She was the first Italian woman to become a doctor, and started her medical practice working with children with severe learning difficulties. Throughout her teaching she carefully observed the children within her care, constantly documenting and analysing her findings, and using these insights to develop didactic learning materials. She soon realised that these materials worked even more effectively with mainstream children, enabling them to achieve more than the traditional schoolroom methods of the day. Over her years of practise she continually modified her method and materials and most are still used in Montessori schools today.
Maria Montessori opened her first school in Rome in 1907. She continued to observe and record children’s reactions to their new environment and to the materials themselves. She concluded that children pass through specific developmental stages; each one characterised by specific inclinations, interests and ways of thinking. Montessori’s observations gave her a deep insight into the nature of children and she began to publish her work, noting children as:
capable of long periods of concentration
enjoying repetition and order
reveling in freedom and choice
preferring purposeful activity to undirected play
self-motivated, not requiring punishment or reward
possessing spontaneous self-discipline
This was in sharp contrast to the ‘seen and not heard’ attitude of that time. She observed that children responded best to a calm orderly environment in which everything had its allocated place. She gave them the opportunity to develop their independence and recognised their increasing levels of self-esteem and confidence as they were taught and encouraged to do things for themselves. These insights into child psychology continue to underpin the Montessori educational philosophy today.
From 1913 onwards Montessori left the medical profession and devoted herself to the study and promotion of child development and education full-time. She put her energy into the development and refinement of the Montessori learning materials and to the training of the Montessori educational method. She did this for the next 40 years, leaving a legacy from which thousands of children around the world have benefitted.
Montessori’s work lives on today. Her systematic approach proved a major foundation for the development of educational theory and much of the educational best practice employed in mainstream schools today can be attributed to her work, research and method. The Montessori network of schools continues to grow, both internationally and in the UK. The Montessori St. Nicholas Charity continues to promote and uphold the Montessori philosophy across the world.