Born in Ancona, Italy in 1870, Maria Montessori was to become the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome Medical House of Children. Upon her graduation in 1896, she began her work with the University’s Psychiatric Clinic. Her visits with children in insane asylums in Rome prompted her to study the works of Jean Itard and Edward Seguin, Pioneers in special education for the mentally deficient. In 1898 Dr. Montessori became director of the State Orthophrenic House of Children. Basing her educational methods on the insights she had gained from Itard and Seguin, she spent the following two years teaching the children, preparing materials, taking notes, and reflecting on her observations and work. As a result of this intensive study, and her discovery that these children could learn many things that seemed impossible, she devoted her energies to the field of education for the rest of her life.
According to Montessori, “A child’s work is to create the person she/he will become.” Children are born with special mental powers which aid in the work of their own construction. But they cannot accomplish the task of self-construction without purposeful movement, exploration, and discovery of their environment – both the things and people within it. They must be given the freedom to use their inborn powers to develop physically, intellectually, and spiritually. A Montessori classroom provides this freedom within the limits of an environment which develops a sense of order and self-discipline.
Also basic to Montessori’s philosophy is her discovery of Sensitive Periods in children’s development. During these periods children seek certain stimuli with immense intensity, to the exclusion of all others. So it is during this time that a child can most easily master a particular learning skill. Dr. Montessori devised special materials to aid children in each Sensitive Period. It is the responsibility of the teacher to recognize these periods in individual children and put them in touch with the appropriate materials in the classroom environment.
The focus of Montessori education continually changes to adapt to the child’s natural stages of development. Montessori described these stages as Planes of Development, which occur in approximately six year intervals, each of which is further subdivided into three year segments. These Planes of Development are the basis for the three-year age groupings found in Montessori House of Children classes: ages three to six; six to nine; nine to twelve; and twelve to fifteen.
Some Specific Details of the Montessori Method-
Children are grouped in mixed ages and abilities in three to six year spans: 0-3, 3-6, 6-12 (sometimes temporarily 6-9 and 9-12), 12-15, 15-18. There is constant interaction, problem solving, child to child teaching, and socialization. Children are challenged according to their ability and never bored. The Montessori middle and high House of Children teacher ideally has taken all three training courses plus graduate work in an academic area or areas.
The environment is arranged according to subject area, and children are always free to move around the room instead of staying at desks. There is no limit to how long a child can work with a piece of material. At any one time in a day all subjects — math, language, science, history, geography, art, music, etc., will be being studied, at all levels.
Teaching method – “Teach by teaching, not by correcting”:
There are no papers turned back with red marks and corrections. Instead the child’s effort and work is respected as it is. The teacher, through extensive observation and record-keeping, plans individual projects to enable each child to learn what he needs in order to improve.
Except for infant/toddler groups (Ratio dictated by local social service regulations), the teaching ratio is one trained Montessori teacher and one non-teaching aide to 30+ children. Rather than lecturing to large or small groups of children, the teacher is trained to teach one child at a time, and to oversee thirty or more children working on a broad array of tasks. She is facile in the basic lessons of math, language, the arts and sciences, and in guiding a child’s research and exploration, capitalizing on his interest in and excitement about a subject. The teacher does not make assignments or dictate what to study or read, nor does she set a limit as to how far a child follows an interest.
The Montessori teacher spends a lot of time during teacher training practicing the many lessons with materials in all areas. She must pass a written and oral exam on these lessons in order to be certified. She is trained to recognize a child’s readiness according to age, ability, and interest in a specific lesson, and is prepared to guide individual progress.
Areas of study:
All subjects are interwoven, not taught in isolation, the teacher modeling a “Renaissance” person of broad interests for the children. A child can work on any material he understands at any time.
Except for infant/toddler groups, the most successful classes are of 30-35 children to one teacher (who is very well trained for the level she is teaching), with one non-teaching assistant. This is possible because the children stay in the same group for three to six years and much of the teaching comes from the children and the environment.
All kinds of intelligences and styles of learning are nurtured: musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, intuitive, and the traditional linguistic and logical-mathematical (reading, writing, and math). This particular model is backed up by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.
There are no grades, or other forms of reward or punishment, subtle or overt. Assessment is by portfolio and the teacher’s observation and record keeping. The test of whether or not the system is working lies in the accomplishment and behavior of the children, their happiness, maturity, kindness, and love of learning and level of work.
Requirements for age 0-6:
There are no academic requirements for this age, but children are exposed to amazing amounts of knowledge and often learn to read, write and calculate beyond what is usually thought interesting to a child of this age.
Education of character is considered equally with academic education, children learning to take care of themselves, their environment, each other – cooking, cleaning, building, gardening, moving gracefully, speaking politely, being considerate and helpful, doing social work in the community, etc.