Dr. Maria Montessori
1870 – 1952
Montessori > Dr. Maria Montessori
Maria Montessori became the first female doctor of Italy in 1897. Montessori had a revelation. "I felt that mental deficiency presented chiefly a pedagogical, rather than mainly a medical, problem." The children she was working with could not be treated in the hospitals; they needed to be trained in schools. Given her new insight she began to transfer her time towards perfecting education. She wanted to use nature in the school in order to meet the real needs of children. (The Montessori Method, 1912).
She developed an educational theory, which combined ideas of scholar Froebel, anthropologist Giuseooe Sergi, French physicians, Jean Itard and Edouard Seguin, with methods that she had found in medicine, education, and anthropology. In 1900 she began to direct a small school in Rome for 'challenged' youth. The methods she employed were both experimental and miraculous. "We should really find the way to teach the child how, before, before making him execute a task." She suggested that teachers see themselves as social engineers; she enhanced the scientific qualities of education. (The Montessori Method)
It was then in 1907 that Montessori began to assert her theories and methods of pedagogy. She began by directing a system of daycare centers for working class children in one of Rome's worst neighborhoods.
The children entered her program as "wild and unruly". Much to her surprise they began to respond to her teaching methods. She always held them in the highest regard and taught her teachers to do likewise. From the beginning amazing things happened. Children younger than three and four years old began to read, write, and initiate self-respect. The Montessori Method encouraged what Maria saw as the children's innate ability to 'absorb' culture. ...And then we saw them 'absorb' far more than reading and writing...it was botany, zoology, mathematics, geography, and all with the same ease, spontaneously, and without getting tired." (The Absorbent Mind).
During the remaining years of her life, from about 1907 to the mid-1930's, Dr. Montessori devoted all of her time and energy to developing schools throughout Europe and North America. She then traveled to India and Sri Lanka, until 1947, where she trained thousands of teachers the Montessori curriculum and methodology.
Since her death, an interest in Dr. Montessori's methods has continued to spread throughout the world. Her message to those who followed her was always to turn one's attention to the child, to "follow the child". It has only now become prevalent to see the child separate from that as an adult thus tailoring education and expectations suited for children.
Many people, hearing of the high academic level reached by students in this system of education, miss the point and think that Montessori math manipulative (as an example) is all there is to the Montessori method. It is easy to acquire materials and to take short courses to learn to use them, but the real value of Montessori takes long and thorough training for the adult.
The potential of the child is not just mental, but is revealed only when the complete "Montessori Method" is understood and followed. The child's choice, practical work, care of others and the environment, and above all the high levels of concentration reached when work is respected and not interrupted, reveal a human being that is superior not only academically, but emotionally and spiritually, a child who cares deeply about other people and the world, and who works to discover a unique and individual way to contribute. This is the essence of real "Montessori" work today.