Montessori schools & education

“It is the child who makes the man, and no man exists
who was not made by the child he once was.”
-Maria Montessori-

Who was Maria Montessori?

Maria Montessori was the first woman in Italy to get a degree as a medical doctor. She was not originally trained as an educator but as an expert in pediatric medicine and psychiatry from the University of Rome back in 1896. After her time at the University she became interested in education and began to read all the major works on educational theory of the past two hundred years.  In 1906 she was invited to oversee the care and education of a group of children from low-income families in the slums of Italy. Then in 1907 she opened her doors to the first Montessori School or ‘Casa dei Bambini’ translated as “Children’s House” for children between the ages of 2 to 5.  Maria had amazing success as an educator who would later go on to revolutionize child education all over the world. Today there are over 22,000 Montessori schools worldwide.

What is a Montessori School?

You may have heard from your friends about Montessori Education but know little to nothing of what it means. When I began as an assistant in a Montessori classroom back in 1995, little did I know that I would later go on to become a Montessori teacher for the next 15 years!

When I started working in a Montessori classroom for the first time, I instinctively knew that there was something special about the program. Children were talked to as equals, allowed freedoms but within well-thought out, organized restraints. It was a place where children were carefully observed in order to assess where each of their “sensitive periods” were as Maria Montessori referred to it.  A “sensitive period” a term coined earlier by the Dutch botanist and geneticist Hugo de Vries, Montessori later referred to it as a “critical window of opportunity during which children absorb certain concepts easily and naturally and that if these important windows of opportunity are missed, the information later becomes significantly more difficult for the child to learn.” Another term that Montessori is known for was the “absorbent mind,” a special time in development when the human brain absorbs information like a sponge.

In a Montessori classroom I saw teachers instilling a love of learning in young children, not just through the more popularized application of “play” in a preschool classroom, but through the lessons and the so-called “work” they were doing.  This so-called “work” is done through carefully crafted materials once created by Maria Montessori herself to teach basic concepts from sensory concepts like big and little, rough and smooth to more academic subjects like the acquisition of language and mathematics.

What a child may believe to be “play” instead becomes “work” a word that implies a serious purpose in that activity. Whether it is to build a “tall tower” using blocks of varying sizes from biggest to smallest, whether it is to move their fingers over sandpaper letters to “absorb” the alphabet in a sensorial way that will later make writing easier, every material in a Montessori classroom has a certain function. Children move through materials with self-correcting qualities so that they can learn at their own rate and in their own time.

The joy I saw these small children in a Montessori classroom came from allowing them freedoms to discover solutions and learn concepts by the work of their own hands. Maria Montessori believed that true learning did not emerge from being told something with words but through experience. It was the teacher’s role to oversee and guide, with the keen eye of an observer. It was the Montessori’s biggest role as a teacher, according to Montessori “to assist a child we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely and independently.”