Known throughout the world, the Montessori method of education is based on the philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori, the first woman physician in Italy during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Specializing in pediatrics and psychiatry, Maria Montessori had regular contact with working class and poor children through free clinics at the University of Rome’s medical school. These experiences convinced Dr. Montessori that children are born with incredible learning potential and an intrinsic desire to explore, discover, and learn about their world.
Through scientific investigation, study of available research, and observation of children with developmental disabilities, as well as with poor children of normal intelligence, Dr. Montessori saw that children flourish in an environment that supports the individual child’s social, emotional, intellectual, and moral development. Through observations of children and through trial and error, Dr. Montessori developed an educational method that is designed to help each child reach his or her full potential in all areas of life.
Dr. Montessori’s “Children Houses” received numerous visitors who came away in awe of how the children took responsibility for their environment and pursued intellectual concepts that were typically introduced much later in schooling. As Montessori duplicated her schools throughout Europe, she also began introducing her method to the United States with the support of the Washington Montessori Society whose members included Alexander Graham Bell and Woodrow Wilson’s daughter.
Learning starts with the child. The Montessori teacher observes the child’s interests and abilities and creates an environment in which these can flourish. An integral part of the Montessori curriculum is that the teacher must respect and follow the child.
The Prepared Environment
In a Montessori classroom, children are surrounded by concrete materials that enhance and explain what they are absorbing or studying. Through manipulation of these concrete materials, children not only refine their physical coordination and increase their ability to concentrate, but they also develop a solid foundation for abstract thinking.
Every child works at his or her own level. Younger children learn through the observation of older children. Older children also have opportunities to develop leadership skills while serving as role models for the younger children. Cooperation and social responsibility are encouraged and a strong community develops. Children have the opportunity to develop social and academic relationships with older and younger students.
Planes of Development
Dr. Maria Montessori identified stages of growth, or “Planes of Development.” These planes of development are the basis for the age groupings found in Montessori schools.