Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori

Her Early Life Maria Montessori was born in the town of Chiaravalle Italy in 1870. Her parents were Alessandro Montessori and Renilde Stoppani. Her father, Alessandro, was a retired military officer. He was a descendent of the noble family in Bologna. Her mother, Renilde, was the niece of a very famous philosopher, scientist and priest Antonio Stoppani. Montessori grew up in a time when teaching was one of the few professions open to educated women, and her father urged her to follow that path.

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Montessori, however, from an early age showed that she was a very independent and assertive woman, and insisted on attending a technical school. To better the education of Maria, her parents decided to move their family to Rome. However, even with the many advantages Rome brought her, she was still unsatisfied. From early on in her life, Maria Montessori showed that she was incredibly independent and insisted on attending a prestigious school. While in Rome, her studies focused mainly on mathematics and engineering, eventually obtaining a degree in engineering.

After completing her degree in engineering, her interests changed slightly. She then decided she wanted to study biology and medicine in hopes to become a doctor. However, a woman wanting to attend medical school was to no avail and was considered impossible. Montessori was very persistent and landed herself an interview with the head of the board of education at the university. Eventually, it seems, Pope Leo XIII interceded on her behalf. In 1890 Montessori enrolled at the University of Rome to study physics, maths and natural sciences, receiving her diploma two years later.

This and the Pope’s intercession enabled her to enter the Faculty of Medicine, and she became the first woman to enter medical school in Italy. Montessori stood out not just because of her gender, but because she was actually intent on mastering the subject matter. She won a series of scholarships at medical school which, together with the money she earned through private tuition, enabled her to pay for most of her medical education. Upon returning to the university in 1901, Montessori shifted her focus from the body to the mind to study psychology and philosophy.

She began to read all she could on the subject of mentally retarded children, and in particular she studied the ground breaking work of two early 19th century Frenchmen, Jean-Marc Itard, who had made his name working with the ‘wild boy of Aveyron’, and Eduard Seguin, his student. She was so keen to understand their work properly that she translated it herself from French into Italian. Itard had developed a technique of education through the senses, which Seguin later tried to adapt to mainstream education.

Highly critical of the regimented schooling of the time, Seguin emphasised respect and understanding for each individual child. He created practical apparatus and equipment to help develop the child’s sensory perceptions and motor skills, which Montessori was later to use in new ways. During the 1897-98 University terms she sought to expand her knowledge of education by attending courses in pedagogy, studying the works of Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Froebel. In 1898 Montessori’s work with the asylum children began to receive more prominence.

The 28-year-old Montessori was asked to address the National Medical Congress in Turin, where she advocated the controversial theory that the lack of adequate provision for retarded and disturbed children was a cause of their delinquency. Expanding on this, she addressed the National Pedagogical Congress the following year, presenting a vision of social progress and political economy rooted in educational measures. This notion of social reform through education was an idea that was to develop and mature in Montessori’s thinking throughout her life.

Montessori’s involvement with the National League for the Education of Retarded Children led to her appointment as co-director, with Guisseppe Montesano, of a new institution called the Orthophrenic School. The school took children with a broad spectrum of disorders and proved to be a turning point in Montessori’s life, marking a shift in her professional identity from physician to educator. Until now her ideas about the development of children were only theories, but the small school, set up along the lines of a teaching hospital, allowed her to put these ideas into practice.

Montessori spent 2 years working at the Orthophrenic School, experimenting with and refining the materials devised by Itard and Seguin and bringing a scientific, analytical attitude to the work; teaching and observing the children by day and writing up her notes by night. The relationship with Guisseppe Montesano had developed into a love affair, and in 1898 Maria gave birth to a child, a boy named Mario, who was given into the care of a family who lived in the countryside near Rome. Maria visited Mario often, but it was not until he was older that he came to know that Maria was his mother.

A strong bond was nevertheless created, and in later years he collaborated and travelled with his mother, continuing her work after her death. Montessori and Montesano had agreed to never marry another person yet, a few years later, Montesano married In 1906, Montessori resigned from both her medical practice and her university chair position to work with a group of children belonging to working parents in San Lorenzo, Rome. What ultimately became the Montessori Method of education developed there in a classroom consisting of sixty children.

It was in San Lorenzo, Rome that Montessori founded the first Casa de Bambini (meaning “Children’s House”). Casa de Bambini was based on her scientific studies and observations of the children’s ability to soak up an incredible amount of knowledge from their surroundings. The children’s accomplishments were made possible by the resources Montessori provided. Through her research, Montessori found that children became particularly engaged in using educational materials developed by Edward Sequin.

So, Montessori carefully observed the children’s use of these manipulative materials and then designed and developed additional materials to further support children’s efforts to learn and develop. Through these observations she learned what children are capable of doing naturally, unassisted by adults. While working at the Casa de Bambini, Montessori developed the basis of her philosophy of the child. She began to see education as an “aid to life” and saw the child as working to developed him or herself.

Montessori’s focus became the learner and she developed a child centred approach to education where the focus was on learning and the learner rather than on teaching and the teacher. The teacher’s job was to help the natural process of development, to keep the child engrossed in the work and to observe the child. As a result of visitors to the Casa Bambini, Montessori schools began to emerge in a number of countries throughout the world. Such places include the United States, England, China and India.

Throughout the next forty years, Montessori travelled around the world in an effort to better the education and the rights of children. Montessori travelled all over the world giving presentations until her death in 1952. After she passed away, E. M. Standing, a colleague and friend stated – “Her most lasting monument is, and will always be, the serene and joyful atmosphere which emanates from thousands of happy children in every part of the word” Standing, 1957 Montessori approached the study of children from a scientific perspective.

As a result of her background in biology, mathematics, and a number of observations, Montessori made remarkable discoveries which were often overlooked by others who viewed the subject of children and education differently. The discoveries and realizations lead to the formation of Maria Montessori’s theories and philosophies. She believed that the pressure one faces to grow up as quickly as possible completely ignores the developmental planes in a child’s life. Montessori stated that, “The children should be encouraged to explore and investigate at their own pace”.

At the heart of the Montessori Method you will find the highly developed theme of respect for the child. In Montessori’s eyes, developing a free and respectful child was the purpose of education. Montessori wanted to develop a child who would enter into society with an open mind and heart. A child that would want to make a difference in their world, and do what they can to change it for the better. Through this vision, Montessori found the only way to raise a child who is respectful to those around them is to provide children with respect.

In the development of the classroom, Montessori began with the psychological environment in an effort to create an atmosphere in which children are looked upon as individuals. In this environment children would be able to construct their own knowledge through discovery and exploration in a positive atmosphere they themselves felt comfortable in. Montessori wanted the children to be able to express their interests freely and have the ability to choose their own activities. She did not to have the entire class be lead through the same activity at the same time.

Montessori stated that the classroom need not be an elaborate place. She wanted the classroom based on beauty and simplicity. Everything in the classroom must be carefully and attractively displayed as a well-planned exhibit. Montessori wanted the colours to be bright and colourful. She hoped for an environment that was warm, relaxing, and inviting. Montessori began to redesign the classroom environment as soon as she finished the development of the psychological environment. The classroom environment included the choice of furniture, placement of materials, height of shelves and other aspects of classroom design.

The main aspect of Montessori’s classroom design is that it was designed to suit the child, not the teacher. Montessori believed that the classroom needed to be designed strictly for the children. She wanted the classroom to meet the needs of every child by fostering independence and self-direction. Montessori felt that a traditional classroom only met the needs of the teacher and fostered reliance and dependence. Based on these beliefs, Montessori did away with traditional school desks and brought in child size chairs and tables as well as low shelving accessible for children instead of tall, locked cabinets they were not able to access. She believed that if children were able to spontaneously choose their own work and return it when they were finished, sense of pride and love of order would develop in them, and their self-confidence and independence would be fostered” Standing, 1957 The environment of the classroom would not fully be complete without the development of the micro environment. The micro environment consists of the materials used in the classroom. In the creation of the micro environment, Montessori wanted to create materials to attract the child.

Each material was designed to serve an educational purpose. Each material is designed to facilitate an aspect of development. Each and every material must be determined in quality and quantity by experimental research. The materials must be designed carefully, and must be designed to lead the child on to the next material. Since all materials in the classroom are designed to serve an educational purpose, the children are free to choose to use any of the materials for which they are ready. The materials are designed so the children learn from working with the materials.

Some materials promote development of specific skills while others facilitate the development of important concepts. So, children are encouraged to work with any material for as long as they need. The teacher’s role is to observe the children, see what they need, provide materials and activities to address those needs, and provide leadership to guide the child’s interactions with the materials and with other children. The teacher, through his or her leadership, needs to guide the children in developing a positive sense of community and make sure that every child learns how to have friends and belong to the group.

Adding to Montessori’s theories and philosophy, Montessori also wanted to provide manipulative materials for the children to use. These materials were found during her visits to the asylums and were finally put to good use upon the arrival of the Casa de Bambini. Montessori’s method provides us with information on the ideal classroom. This information includes recommendations for the construction of the environment and the role and expectations of the teacher. Building upon the theme of respect for the child, Montessori developed ideas on what the structure of the environment should be like.

Montessori believed that in order to liberate the child, we must reform the environment. “The new school must be absolutely suitable to the minute detail, to the developing soul” (Chattin-McNichols, 1992). The materials within the Montessori classroom can be divided into four categories. These categories include daily living exercises, sensorial, academic, as well as cultural and artistic. The child is first introduced to materials used to exercise daily living. Such activities involve simple tasks which the child has already witnessed their parents perform at home.

Having witnessed these tasks in their own home, the child has a natural desire to imitate the task. The imitation of this task is based on intellectual knowledge based on previous observations. The activities Montessori introduced to practice daily living exercises include washing the table, shining shoes, sweeping the floor, etc. Such activities promote discipline and confidence. After practical life activities are introduced, the child is then ready to move on to sensorial materials.

These materials are used to refine and draw attention to the senses such as tactile, visual, auditory, olfactory, baric, chromatic, thermic and gustatory. The use of these materials will assist the child in the development of categorizing sense perceptions into an inner mental order. The academic materials in the classroom are used to teach math, writing, reading, language, science and geography. The aim for learning this material is to satisfy the child’s innate desire for learning. It is not to store a quantity of knowledge in the child.

The cultural and artistic materials used in the classroom deal with the communication of ideas and self-expression. The child will develop a sense of love and appreciation for music. While studying music, the child will learn basic concepts of rhythm, harmony and melody. The introduction to art and drawing is similar to the foundation of writing. Montessori introduced exercises that develop the muscles of the fingers and hands for holding pencils or paintbrushes for making controlled movements. Montessori laid down the foundation for learning through these four categories. From there, the child is free to explore.

Materials in a Montessori classroom tend to be overemphasized in relation to other aspects of the Montessori Method. The purposes of the materials are often confused to the outsider. The aim of the materials within the Montessori classroom is more of an internal approach to assist the child’s self-construction and psychic development. The materials provide the child with stimuli that captures attention and the initiation of concentration. The materials within the classroom must correspond to the child’s inner needs. Children are introduced to a variety of different materials based on age level.

While observing and experimenting with the child, the teacher then watches for concentration and repetition of their actions with the materials. This represents whether or not the piece of material met the child’s inner needs or not. It will also represent the growth and intensity of the stimulus represented by the child. As well as the meaningfulness of the materials, there are several other principles that are involved in the determining of the materials in the classroom. The error that the child will come across while working with the materials must be isolated within a single piece of material.

The isolation of this error will help the child perceive the problem and be able to achieve the task immediately. An example of this would be a block tower. The tower of blocks will portray a variation in size from block to block. The child will not be presented with more complex things such as colour, noises, designs, etc. Another example of this would be through a block of wood in which the child places cylinders ranging in size in the correct holes. Through control of error, if the child has not placed the cylinders in the correct size hole, there will be one cylinder left over.

The child will then be able realize what he/she did wrong and be able to adjust they cylinders to fit in each hole correctly. The materials in the classroom are designed to progress in design and usage from simple to more complex. An example of this would be a piece of material called Rods. A set of rods are designed to first teach serration varying in length only. Serration is the concrete operation that involves ordering stimuli along a quantitative dimension such as length. After the child discovers the length of the rods, a second set is brought in.

The second sets of rods are red and blue in colour. They are one meter in diameter and are used to connect numbers and length. In using these rods, the child will be able to understand simple addition and subtraction equations. After working with the first two set of rods, a third set of rods is introduced. Due to the fact that the initial dependence on motor development and sensorial learning has been passed, the third set of rods are used for a more complicated set of math problems as well as the introduction to writing the numerical problems.

All of the materials Maria Montessori implemented in the classroom are designed to indirectly prepare the child for future learning. An example of indirect learning would be the development of writing. Knobs are placed on materials giving the child the opportunity to coordinate his/her finger and thumb motor action. Another example of indirect learning would be the use of inset designs. Through the use of inset designs, the child will develop the ability to use a pencil by using the insets to guide his/her movements.

The child is able to develop muscle memory and the pattern of letters by tracing sandpaper letters. When the day comes that the child is ready to write, the child will feel no pressure or anxiety due to the indirect learning he/she has encountered over the year. Because the child has indirectly been preparing for this step, they have developed a sense of self-confidence and initiate to achieve the task successfully. The materials used in a Montessori classroom start off as concrete expressions and gradually become abstract representations. First the child will sensorially explore a wooden triangle.

After the exploration of this triangle, separate wooden triangles are added to represent the base and sides of the triangle. Following the discovery of the base and sides to the triangle, the triangles dimensions are then introduced. The use of these wooden triangles are further represented to introduce different activities such as puzzle trays, triangles coloured on paper, triangles outlined with thick heavy lines, as well as the abstraction of triangles thinly outlined. Through these activities, the child will be able to grasp the abstract essence of concrete material.

A number of Montessori’s innovations have been accepted worldwide as standards for effective learning. After an extensive amount of research on Montessori’s philosophy and the method that resulted from it, we can see that she created a whole new movement in developmental psychology. These innovations include furniture sized specifically to the children who use it, recognition in every aspect of the effect early childhood has on an individual, and the idea of instruction that is based on every child’s individual needs (Loeffler, 1992).

Although Maria Montessori passed away in 1952, her method is still alive and is being practiced by many of her supports. Through her many other supporters, it can be seen that even after her death, Montessori’s passionate spirit has survived. Those who know the method well maintain that Montessori is a hallmark of excellence in education (Loeffler, 1992). Maria Montessori was an unwed mother in 1898 and gave birth to Mario Montessori, She gave him away to be discretely brought up elsewhere and did appear at times throughout his life, though she was not identified as his mother until he was 15.

She was a part of his life on a very small scale early on. In “Maria Montessori: A Biography” by Rita Kramer (about the day she actually united with Mario. At the end of Chapter 11, it says: “Mario Montessori’s memory is of a spring day in 1913 when he was about 15, seeing on a school outing the lady whose visits had punctuated childhood and been explained in his fantasies. A car stopped where he was resting; she got out and he went up to her and said simply, ‘I know you are my mother’ and told her he wanted to go with her.

She made no objection; he got into the car with her and the scene ended as all tales should — they went off to live happily ever after. ” He travelled with her and even came to the US when he was 17 to help her. He travelled with her throughout the world. He died in 1982, but devoted his life to the Montessori Method. Mario was never publically recognized as her son until nearly her time of death, something that many feel was such a guilty feeling that led her to really seek out her Methods.


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