Teaching Methods: Maria Montessori and the Montessori Method

When investigating the world’s best methods of education, time and time again, the Montessori method appears, standing among the finest methods of education in the world. Even so, what exactly is the Montessori method, when and where was it developed, and how did it manage to develop into one of the best methods of education in the world? This piece aims to answer these questions by looking at the Montessori method in detail. The piece deals with the origins of the Montessori method, its guiding philosophy, and what the method entailed in the beginning. It’s important to note from the opening of this article that while a lot of Montessori environments of the present-day differ in their approach to educating children and adolescents, this piece only gives attention to what the Montessori method was initially planned to be and do within educational environments.

Dr Maria Montessori.
Image Credit: http://www.theconversation.com

Dr Maria Montessori

The Montessori method was created by the Italian physician, Dr Maria Montessori. Born on the 31st of August 1870 in Chiaravalle, Ancona province, from her earliest years, Dr Montessori had a strong interest in scientific topics which led her into the medical field, studying and completing a medical degree at the University of Rome, becoming the first woman in Italy to obtain a Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1896. Following her graduation, in 1897, she was selected to work as an assistant in the psychiatric clinic at the University of Rome. As an assistant, Dr Montessori visited asylums, observing and working with children with different kinds of mental disabilities. The observations she made at these asylums together with the work of French physicians, Jean Marc Gaspard Itard and Edouard Seguin, went on to shape her ideas on children’s education. While the earliest years of her career were spent in the medical field that is, in paediatrics and psychiatry, over time, however, her studies and research as a physician-led her into the field of education.

In 1907, she established a Children’s House in an apartment building in Rome. The Children’s House was a school for children from low-income families and it was in this Children’s House that her teaching and learning method was developed. Her first book, Dr Montessori’s Own Handbook, detailing the ideas she developed as she worked at the Children’s House, was written during these years. By 1911, the Montessori method had been accepted and implemented in numerous public schools across Italy. Realising that there were simply some universal truths about childhood and that education played an incredibly important role in childhood development, while at her Children’s House, Dr Montessori decided to devote the rest of her life to developing the Montessori method, a method of education intended for all children irrespective of where they were born, how they were nurtured, or if they experienced any learning difficulties.

Guiding Philosophy

The Montessori method was founded upon the rule of non-interference and set apart by its emphasis on the importance of respecting the freedom and individuality of the child. To be exact, the method stressed independence, freedom within limits, and consideration for the child’s development. Dr Montessori judged that since children passed through several stages as they developed, children’s education had to be designed in such a way that children’s natural development was placed at the heart of education. Furthermore, she observed and believed that children had absorbent minds and that during the first few years of life, children could be compared to sponges, absorbing everything in their environment. Because children had absorbed minds, they had to be in an environment that called for them to use their imaginations.

Dr Montessori also observed that because children had absorbent minds, they had inherent desires to learn and truly loved to learn which could be seen from them actively participating in their environments. She judged that because children were active participants in their environments, it was incredibly important for teachers and parents or caregivers to create and maintain environments that encouraged learning. From her observations, she also realized that children learnt by way of using all of their senses as well as through play and because they did, she believed that children had to take responsibility for their learning, shaping themselves through play. Accordingly, the role of the teacher in any given Montessori environment then was to create and maintain an environment that encouraged learning as well as to guide children through the process of learning. While Montessori teachers were regarded as facilitators, responsible for guiding the process of learning, as to teachers, Dr Montessori believed that teachers were never to get in the way of the process of learning.

Montessori Method

The Montessori method of education, developing from her observations and ideas on children, included several principles. First, given that Dr Montessori built her method on the principle of non-interference and valued the freedom and individuality of each child, for those reasons, she believed that learning was enriched when children had some sense of control over their learning. Accordingly, within any given Montessori environment, learners had to be allowed to choose the activity that they would like to work on during every 3-hour block of work time. Second, Dr Montessori believed that movement and thinking were closely related, that movement enriched both thinking and learning and, on account of that, children had to learn using materials. As a consequence of the principle of non-interference, materials had to be designed in such a way that if and when children made mistakes, they would be able to recognise and correct those mistakes themselves, without any interference from a teacher.

Third, she also held that there were better chances of children learning when they were involved in what they were doing. Thus, the curriculum was designed in such a way that although children were taught literacy and numeracy skills, within any given Montessori environment, children were also taught social skills like being kind, considerate, and respectful towards others. Children were also taught practical life skills like setting the table, gardening, sweeping, and so on. Dr Montessori and her colleagues developed this kind of curriculum because they believed in a well-rounded approach to educating children.

Fourth, she also judged that attaching penalties or rewards to any given activity, high grades to tests, for example, negatively impacted children’s willingness to participate in those activities when the reward was no longer there. As follows, there were no tests or grades in a given Montessori environment. Children were simply assessed in ways that weren’t tied to receiving punishments or rewards. Finally, Dr Montessori regarded the environment as extremely important to learning. Not only were ordered and prepared environments important to her but so was taking co-operative measures that were good for learning. Different from traditional methods where children were grouped into classrooms according to their shared ages, within any given Montessori environment, children were gathered into 3-year age groupings namely, 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and so on. The reason for this was to create an environment in which younger children could learn from the older children, proving to be a measure for both older and younger children.

Global Recognition

The Montessori method, inspired by Dr Montessori’s observations of children with different kinds of mental disabilities, was originally designed to help children develop into well-rounded and responsible adults who love and value learning. Dr Montessori focused on and used children’s natural desire to learn to develop her method, a method suited for all children regardless of any learning difficulties they may face. Looking at other methods, it’s easily recognisable why the Montessori method is typically placed among the best in the world for it isn’t just a well-rounded approach to education but, significantly, it is a method that also seeks to confront learning difficulties in children, setting it apart from every other method of education in the world.

Moreover, while her work and ideas on children’s education spread throughout Italy, they also spread across the world. Her books were translated from Italian into several different languages and her method was adopted in many homes and schools in countries like; Switzerland, Australia, the US, Mexico, China, Syria, and South Africa, amongst others. Although there are a lot of Montessori environments all over the world, many of them have modified her ideas, however. Despite that, the Montessori method was initially intended to nurture the love of learning that exists in all children. Though Dr Montessori died in 1952 before she could develop a method of education for adolescents, her method, however, has been adopted in a large number of homes and schools all over the world and still stands as one of the best teaching and learning methods in the world.

References and Further Readings

Cascella, M. (2015). “Maria Montessori (1870-1952): Women’s Emancipation, Pedagogy, and Extra Verbal Communication”, History of Medicine, 143, pp. 658-668 [Online]. Available: http://www.researchgate.net

Fundacion Argentina Maria Montessori. (2018). The Montessori Method. [Online]. Available: http://www.fundacionmontessori.org

Lillard, A. S. (2013). “Playful Learning and Montessori Education”, American Journal of Play, 5(2), pp. 157-186. [Online]. Available: http://www.files.eric.ed.gov

Lillard, A.S. (2008). Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius. Oxford University Press

Montessori Northwest. (2021). About Montessori Education. [Online]. Available: http://www.montessori-nw.org

Schilling, K. (2011). Montessori Approach to Teaching/Learning and Use of Didactic Materials. University of Manitoba

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