Maria Montessori was born in Italy on August 31, 1870. She was born to a well respected family and was expected to grow up to fulfill the traditional role of the Italian woman. Instead she pursued an advanced degree at the University of Rome and became the first woman physician to graduate in Italy. Her interests drew her to work with children, initially those who were disadvantaged and had special needs.
Maria Montessori - a brief background
Because she was an anthropologist, Montessori's decisions about working with children were made by observing them first. She was not trained as an educator and thus her decisions were based upon watching what children did and what they were attracted to. Through her observations and trial and error, she developed what became known as the Montessori Method of education. It was a radical departure in Montessori's own time. She did not place children in restricting environments, but instead designed the environment to reflect the children. Tables and chairs were child-sized and materials were placed on low shelves to be readily accessible to the students. In addition, many of the skills were designed to teach children how to become more independent and do things for themselves.
Montessori continued throughout her life to work for the betterment of the lives of children, founding training centers for teachers and dispersing this method of education throughout the world. During her later years her focus became centered around educating children to promote the principles of peace. Her legacy has been the establishment of Montessori schools around the world, which promote the cause of the child as a citizen of the world.
The Montessori education program is designed for children from birth through age 18. It is based upon principles developed by Dr. Maria Montessori throughout her life.
The focus of this system is the development of materials, educational techniques, and observations which support the natural development of children. The teacher in a Montessori classroom serves less as an "instructor" and more as a guide and facilitator. Children are encouraged to "learn how to learn," thus gaining independence and self-confidence. Because the method is based upon developmentally appropriate activities, the child often learns through the process of education - by doing.
The Montessori school is designed to accommodate various stages of development in children which occur in roughly 3-year cycles. From birth to 3 years of age the child is absorbing directly from the environment, almost as a sponge. It is during this phase that many language and motor skills are acquired without formal instruction.
During the second phase from 3 to 6 years of age, the child reaches a different stage in which repetition and manipulation of the environment are critical to the development of concentration, coordination, independence, and a sense of order. The child learns skills for everyday living, sorting, grading, classifying - all of which lead to the development of writing, reading, and a mathematical mind.
When the child reaches the next phase of development, ages 6 to 9, the imagination of the child is the key to learning. At this age there is an increasing awareness of the world and an interest in its wonders. The classroom can now excite the child by using this increased imagination to explore the universe. During this phase the child is presented with "the big picture," an overview of the interrelatedness of things. The curriculum works from the large concept to the more refined. Concepts are introduced through hands-on materials which encourage and engage the child and assist in an understanding of concepts before they are committed to memory.
As the child enters the next phase, from 9 to 12, the world is an ever-expanding place. The horizons of the imagination increase and concepts may be presented and abstracted with fewer manipulative materials. The students' hands-on activities broaden in scope and include practical application outside the classroom. Projects become more involved and diverse in nature.
Because the child goes through these various stages, Montessori classrooms are organized into 3-year age groupings. This allows a greater flexibility in meeting each child's individual needs and permits the child to develop with fewer social transitions. The environment becomes the "teacher" with the child as the initiator of his/her own education.
The Montessori approach to education was re-introduced in the United States around 1960. By today's estimates, there are at least 4,800 Montessori schools in the country, serving some 400,000 children from infancy through secondary levels, in both public and private settings.
Special training is required for becoming a Montessori teacher. Montessori teacher education is available in almost 100 institutions located throughout the U. S. and an additional number of other countries of the world, in both special-purpose institutions and college/university settings. An organization formed in 1991, the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (MACTE), offers an accreditation process for Montessori teacher preparation courses and is supported by 9 Montessori professional organizations and a group of independent training programs.