The wonders of the Montessori Method
The Montessori Method of education was developed by Dr Maria Montessori, based on her keen observations of how children learn in a carefully prepared environment when they are given the opportunity to educate themselves.
Even after a century after its creation, the Montessori method of education remains popular among teachers and children. Irrespective of the changes in national education systems around the world, the elements of the Montessori Method have remained relevant and have stood the test of time.
Respect the child
Respect for the child is the first principle, which has been the cornerstone of Montessori Method since its inception. This is the element where a child is given the freedom to select the material he wants to work with. When we respect the choice of the child without interrupting him, a positive environment for learning is created. “As a rule, however, we do not respect children. We try to force them to follow us without regard to their special needs. We are overbearing with them, and above all, rude; and then we expect them to be submissive and well-behaved, knowing all the time how strong their instinct of imitation is and how touching their faith in and admiration of us”, said Dr Maria. She believed that children have a strong instinct to imitate us. Hence, they must be taught with kindness if that is what we want them to reciprocate.
Absorbent mind of children
Dr Maria observed that young children are like sponges who have an incredible power of learning and absorbing from the world around them. She believed in the capability of children to educate themselves. “It may be said we acquire knowledge by using our minds; but the child absorbs knowledge directly into his psychic life. Simply by continuing to live, the child learns to speak his native tongue”. Children are born with an innate ability to learn that depends on their environment, experiences and interactions.
It refers to that period of time when a child is immensely focused and his brain urges him to learn a particular skill or immerse in an experience. It can be recognised in situations like a child’s interest in repetitively doing the same task till he masters it. The Montessori programme provides a child with an extended period of activity without any interruption. As a result, children follow their interest and progress naturally. The role of a Montessori teacher is to carefully observe these periods and based on this, the child can be guided towards the material that is best suited to his interest and the stage of development.
From her extensive research on the learning process of children and their development, Dr. Maria concluded that children learn best through independent learning in a prepared environment. The Montessori Method provides children with engaging activities and opportunities to learn and explore materials of their choice. The prepared environment in a Montessori preschool is focused at child-centred learning where educational experience and materials are available in a systematic way.
Dr Maria believed that children have the ability to educate themselves when provided with a carefully prepared environment. When children are actively involved in a prepared environment with no interruptions, and a freedom of choice, they absorb and learn from their experiences. The role of the teacher is to facilitate the learning and guide the children without making her presence felt too much.
The children’s house is an excellent Montessori centre that has adhered to the Montessori method of teaching for more than 30 years and still believes in it. Founded in 1986 by Nan Civel, the organisation has held on to Dr Maria’s educational materials in five curriculum areas: Practical Life, Sensory Activities, Number Work, Language and Culture. The curriculum engages students in a wide range of activities and values required for the holistic development of the child.
The children’s house ensures that all the furniture and material is scaled down to the size of the child and the environment is completely child friendly. By engaging children in purposeful activities like Tots Arts, Tots Music, Tots Gym and Sensory Play, the school aims at physical, social, emotional and intellectual development of the child. The well-planned classrooms and lower teacher child ratio encourage optimal learning and ensure complete care and attention to your little one.
It also collaborates with the parents to help them understand and share the joy of their child’s progress. Apart from conducting parent-teacher meetings on a regular basis, The children’s house encourages the participation of parents in the learning journey of their children. Parents are invited to events like cultural day celebrations, annual events (such as festival celebrations) and parent involvement projects (planting of vegetables). The children’s house believes that parental engagement is an essential factor for the all round development of the child. It fosters love, care and an enriching environment of mutual respect for the growth and development of the child.
An stirring story of determination and courage
Maria Montessori was a courageous girl breaking the conventional barriers of education set up for those of her gender in the 1890s in Chiaravalle, Italy.
As a little girl, she initially aspired to become an engineer. But once she graduated from higher secondary school, she was determined to become a doctor. Despite her parents wishes to make her a teacher, Maria wanted to enter the field of medicine, which was dominated by men. Maria joined the University of Rome in 1890 and became the first woman to join a medical college in Italy.
Due to the gender bias, Maria faced many obstacles during her study and finally qualified as a doctor in 1896. Dr Montessori was very competent and treated patients from all social classes with the same the respect. She was also a member of Women’s Rights Movement and later joined a research programme at the University of Rome in the psychiatric clinic. Gradually Maria got interested in education and her studies led her to observe and question the teaching methods of children with intellectual disabilities.
A revolution in early childhood education
Maria got the opportunity to further investigate and improve the teaching methods when she was appointed as the co-director of Orthophrenic School. The school admitted a number of children with different disorders and developmental disabilities. She decided to approach the task in a scientific manner by analysing and observing the different teaching methods to find the one that was best for the children. Maria passionately worked throughout the day and compiled her notes at night.The unexpected progress of the children made the programme a big success.
In 1901, Montessori began her study in anthropology and educational philosophy and joined as a lecturer at the Pedagogic School of the University of Rome. During this period of development in Rome, parents were out for work all day while the children created havoc at home. Hence, Maria was approached to keep the children engaged so that they do not damage the newly constructed apartments. Maria willingly accepted the opportunity to open a childcare centre for the poor families. This led to the establishment of her first Casa dei Bambini (‘Children’s House’), which started on the 6th of January 1907. While people did not expect much from this project, Maria felt her vision would be realised one day: “I had a strange feeling which made me announce emphatically that here was the opening of an undertaking of which the whole world would one day speak.”
She brought some of the material that she had developed for children in the Orthophrenic School. Soon she introduced many new activities and other materials but only decided to keep the ones that engaged the children. She realised that when children are placed in an environment that supports their natural development, they have the power of self-education. The young children progressed brilliantly and the news of Montessori’s education approach started spreading rapidly throughout Italy.
Spreading the Montessori Method worldwide
In 1909, Montessori conducted the first training session in her educational approach for 100 students.
This was followed by the establishment of a number of Montessori schools, societies and training programmes all over the world. Maria was soon occupied in public speaking and lectures in different countries but she decided to give up these commitments and remain devoted to her primary purpose.
During the same period, the rise of fascism in Europe caused a huge loss as all Montessori schools in Germany were closed by the Nazis in 1933. After she refused to be a part of Mussolini’s plans to incorporate the Montessori schools into youth movement for fascists, he closed down all her schools. In 1939, Maria and her son went to India to run a training course for 3 months in Madras. But due to the outbreak of the war, she was put under house arrest and her stay was extended to a period of 7 years. However, Maria’s passion could not be shaken by the circumstances and she used the opportunity to train over a thousand teachers in India.
After her return to Europe, Maria was asked to address Unesco with the theme of Education and Peace. This was followed by her nomination for the Nobel Prize Award in 1949. She believed: “The child is capable of developing and giving us tangible proof of the possibility of a better humanity. He has shown us the true process of construction of the human being. We have seen children totally change as they acquire a love for things and as their sense of order, discipline, and self-control develops within them… The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind.”
The Montessori Method of education created a century ago still remains relevant despite the development and changes in education. Montessori education is based on the principle of respect for the child. Maria Montessori believed that when children are respected and given the freedom to choose the material they want to work with, they have the power to educate themselves. Over a period of 100 years, the Montessori Method has enabled the all-round development of hundreds and thousands of children, making them contributing members of society.