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Maria Montessori

A Brief Overview

Maria Montessori was the first female doctor in Italy and an innovative educator with an empathy for children far ahead of the attitude of her time.  As a result of her medical background, she approached education not as an educator or a philosopher, but as a scientist. The Montessori Method of education was developed over many years of observation of children and the development of many ideas and materials that would help them achieve their full potential. Her theories were tailored to the needs of the growing child and sprang from Montessori's intense love and respect for all children while being legitimized by her in depth studies of pediatrics,  psychology, psychiatry and the intellectual and cognitive development of children.  

She left the world a legacy of a method of education, which combines a practical approach, based on the carefully planned learning environment, with a philosophy centered on the idea of developing independence in the child. She believed all children are intrinsically motivated to learn and that they absorb knowledge without effort, when provided with the right kind of activities, at the right time in their development.

The Montessori Method

The Montessori method has three key components: the child, the prepared environment and the adult. The dynamic links and interactions between these components, underpinned by Montessori philosophy, represent what we know today as the Montessori approach. 

The most important development period of a child's life is between the ages of 0-6 years, these are the formative years. This is when the child creates himself from experiences he has within the environment. The environment must be favourable and support the child's growth and development towards being a confident, independent, responsible individual.

Nature has provided the child with two gifts during these formative years: the absorbant mind and sensitive periods. The absorbant mind refers to a small child's sponge like ability to effortlessly absorb information from within his environment that he then uses to create ideas and patterns of thinking. This absorption is driven by urges within the child to explore his environment and the child's own natural desire to learn. This intrinsic desire cannot be influenced by adults or external factors.

The absorbant mind is supported by certain sensitive periods during the formative years. These are transitory periods of time  when a child is especially interested in aspects of his environment to the exclusion of others. Children have sensitive periods for language, order, aspects of culture (socialising) movement and small objects. They are times of intense learning and development for a child who may for example want to suddenly order his books by size or colour again and again satisfying his exploration of the sensitive period for order or may want you to read the same book ten times in a row satisfying his sensitive period for language absorption.

An awareness of and respect for how children develop underpins the preparation of the Montessori environment. This should offer each child the following: the ability for freedom of choice and movement, structure and order (everything has its place, rules of grace and courtesy), nature and beauty (natural materials, plants, real life paintings), the Montessori materials and the development of community life (learning how to socialise, a sense of community).

The Montessori Classroom is indeed a child's world, geared to the size, the pace and interest of children. It is designed to put the child at ease by giving freedom within an environment prepared with attractive materials. These materials are arranged on low shelves within easy reach of even the smallest child. The tables and chairs in the room are movable, permitting a flexible arrangement for many activities. The children work on small mats on the floor where they are naturally comfortable. The Montessori materials are divided into five groups:

  • The Practical Life Exercises

  • The Sensorial Materials

  • Literacy Materials

  • Maths Materials

  • Culture Materials (geography, history and science). 

These await each child's moment of interest.

The role of the teacher is to observe the interests and needs of the child and direct her to materials that will satisfy these. She demonstrates the correct use of the materials. She is trained to recognise the child's sensitive periods and respect and accommodate these. She allows the child to discover his own mistakes through further manipulation of the self-correcting materials. She must encourage a child who is hesitant and divert a child who chooses materials beyond his ability. She must protect a concentrating child from interference, not go where she is not needed and enable children to repeat activities until they are satisfied.

The Montessori environment is always planned and prepared so that it can meet the changing needs of the children within it. Freedom is given because this preparation ensures there are no bad choices within the environment. The freedom however is always within boundaries that ensure safety within the environment, the sense of security that children gain from order as well as respect for the child's peers.  

The Montessori method aims to assist every child towards holistic development of themselves in a way that respects each child's developmental stage and interests. With the aim of producing independent , confident individuals who love to learn. 

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