Maria Montessori was a visionary woman, passionate about providing quality education to all children. Born in 1870, at a time where few women attended college and were not expected to work in any area other than teaching, Maria grew up determined to become a doctor in spite of society, and even her father’s reservations. She was not accepted into the University of Rome, but with her spirit of perseverance, Maria gained the help of Pope Leo XIII to intercede on her behalf.
In 1896, she graduated and became the first woman to gain her doctorate in Italy (A Biography of Maria Montessori, n. d. ). Maria Montessori brought her passion and education as a doctor into a philosophy of education centered around the idea that each child has an intrinsic ability to learn through self-selection and exploration. Her beliefs around child development bear a similarity to Piaget’s and were based on her extensive observations of children.
Maria’s observations of and work with children began with school of “deficient” children and within two years those children were able to pass the standardized tests for Italian public schools (Lascarides & Hinitz, 2000, p. 144). In 1907, the Casa dei Bambini was created by Maria with a group of children in an apartment complex with working parents whose children needed to be cared for during the day . It was a time of development in Rome and the poor working class was growing, which also meant that their children would need childcare.
These years with Casa dei Bambini would continue to shape her philosophies and be the basis for her book, The Montessori Method. There were five Casa dei Bambini’s by 1908 which was a testament to Maria’s success as well as the society’s needs at that time. Maria’s influence continued to spread as she opened her own schools to train teachers in the Montessori Method. Sadly, with the rise of fascism in Europe, by 1933, most of her schools had been shut down.
Maria continued her work and training in India and, later in her life, returned to the Netherlands. She was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times (A Biography of Maria Montessori, n. d. ). Overall, Maria’s influence was felt strongly during her lifetime in Europe and in the United States. The purpose of Maria’s book, The Montessori Method, is to share her ideals about the importance of children having the opportunity to have freedom of choice, the role of the teacher and specifics of running a Montessori classroom.
Maria believed that children were being inhibited by the current form of education and that it was “the children are repressed in the spontaneous expression of their personality till they are almost like dead beings…like butterflies mounted on pins, are fastened each to his place, the desk, spreading the useless wings of barren and meaningless knowledge which they have acquired (Montessori, 1912, p. 15). ” Instead, she saw that children should be able to direct their own learning since they have inherently within them the ability and desire to learn, exploring their world.
Within this freedom, Maria believed they would find their own discipline as called “an individual disciplined when he is master of himself, and can, therefore, regulate his own conduct when it shall be necessary to follow some rule of life…since the child now learns to move rather than to sit still, he prepares himself not for the school, but for life; for he becomes able, through habit and through practice, to perform easily and correctly the simple acts of social or community life. (Montessori, 1912, p. 87). Teachers were meant to be the “directress” of the classroom and to guide through observations done of the children. The teacher is meant to disappear into the classroom by observing the ability level and interest of the child, drawing on their strengths in order to choose appropriate materials to stimulate the child’s learning.
The classroom was to have a schedule that could be flexible according to the needs and interests of the child and would include activities such as intellectual exercises, directed games, practical life activities, simple gymnastics, free play and songs (Montessori, 1912, p. 20). Maria also believed that the “didactic materials” used by children should have a specific purpose in mind and should enable the child to “exercise their senses” in order for the child to be engaged in their learning (Montessori, 1912, p. 169). Furniture in the classroom was also meant to be child-sized so that the child could fully explore their environment and make it their own (Montessori, 1912, p. 82).
Maria Montessori’s book gives a picture of her passion for children and to help them learn the way she perceived that they were meant to. By having he opportunity to read her original work afforded me the opportunity to understand her philosophies more clearly. I agree that her ideas have an important place in education today and see that she tips the scale in child and teacher led activities to be led by children in order for those activities to be more relevant to the child as well as having a greater impact on their learning. I appreciate her use of didactic materials that are designed to be practical and that her activities and play are focused as closely to real life and community as possible.
This allows the child to truly prepare for life beyond the classroom. In Maria’s opinion on the role and training of her teachers, while I understand her desire to start teachers as a “fresh slate” on which she could instill her style of observation, I think that teachers receiving further training on child psychology and the history of education give the teacher a broader base to understand that foundations of the education they are practicing. I also believe that even in an authentic classroom environment designed to mimic real life, there can also be room for imaginative play.
Although Maria intended to give a great deal of freedom in her learning design, there are benefits to giving children the freedom to explore objects unto themselves without always having to use them for the intended purpose. I believe that this kind of imaginative play leads to invention and innovation. As a whole, I believe that Maria’s contributions to education are invaluable and the fact that we are still drawing on her knowledge and ideas over one hundred years later is a testament to the power of her philosophy of education.
Many of Maria Montessori’s theories as presented in this book are timeless since they are based on observations and work she did with children. At the time of her writing this book, it addressed the needs of her time with a rise in working class as well as an increase in interest and need for early childhood care and education. Maria went beyond the basic expectation of care and provided education directed by the interests and ability levels of the child. Taking away restrictive desks, her school provided a clean, open space for children to explore and learn. The learning was based on real life situations that they could use.
These concepts in early childhood education are still relevant and often seen in preschools today through their variety of activity centers, authentic learning experiences and open space for children to learn through movement. The Montessori Method began it’s influence immediately after it was published and it continues to be relevant today. This book would be most useful as a guide for teachers or administrators that would like insight into the way children learn and develop. For anyone looking to run a school or classroom based on the Montessori ideology, this book would be an essential tool in developing their program.
January 9, 2018
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