Maria Montessori: Educator, Scientist, and Feminist …

The child who has never learned to work by himself, to set goals for his own acts, or to be the master of his own force of will is recognizable in the adult who lets others guide his will and feels a constant need for approval of others. — Maria Montessori (From: Education and Peace)

Maria Montessori developed an amazing approach to education! The Montessori Method allows children to realize their instinctive drive towards self-realization. It fosters initiative, self-esteem and the joy of learning; where education becomes a support to the inner life of human beings.

The Montessori approach is concerned first and foremost with the development of human potential. This approach is based on “following the child,” on recognizing the developmental needs and characteristics of children of each age group and in constructing the corresponding environment that best meets these needs. Maria died on May 6th, 1952 (at the age of 81) in the company of her son Mario, to whom she bequeathed the legacy of her work.

Maria Montessori observed that the child moves to adulthood through a series of developmental periods which she called the Planes of Development.

Each period is different but is built on the foundation of the preceding one with the Montessori environment and approach tailored to meet the child’s needs at each stage. In the first plane from birth to age six, the child is characterized by his or her ‘absorbent mind,’ absorbing all aspects of his or her environment, language and culture.

In the second plane from age six to twelve, the child uses a ‘reasoning mind’ to explore the world with abstract thought and imagination. In the third plane from twelve to eighteen, the adolescent has a ‘humanistic mind’ eager to understand humanity and the contribution he or she can make to society. In the last plane of development from age eighteen to twenty-four, the adult explores the world with a ‘specialist mind,’ taking his or her place in the world.

Maria Montessori believed that if education followed the natural development of the child, then society would gradually move to a higher level of co-operation, peace, and harmony.

The Montessori Classroom:

In a Montessori classroom, the place of the traditional teacher is held by a fully trained Montessori director or directress. Montessori directresses typically have a traditional teacher qualification as well as an additional one-year full-time Montessori teacher education diploma. The directress is a guide or facilitator whose task it is to support the young child in his or her process of self-development.

The directress is foremost an observer, unobtrusively yet carefully monitoring each child’s development, recognizing and interpreting each child’s needs. The teacher provides a link between the child and the prepared environment, introducing the child to each piece of equipment when he or she is ready in a precise, clear and enticing way. On a broader level, the directress provides a link between the classroom and the parent, meeting with each child’s parents to discuss progress.

She needs to be an example; calm, consistent, courteous and caring. The most important attribute of a directress is the love and respect that she holds for each child’s total being.

The Montessori classroom is not merely a place for individual learning, it is a vibrant community of children in which the child learns to interact socially in a variety of ways. [Look Inside a Montessori Classroom].

The three-year age range enables older children to teach the younger ones and to learn much themselves from the experience while the younger children are inspired to more advanced work through observing the older ones.

With such a variety of levels in the classroom, each child can work at his or her own pace, unhindered by competition and encouraged by co-operation. Children attend daily for a three-year cycle.

Today, a Casa dei Bambini is a multicultural, international Montessori Preschool that provides the highest quality of Montessori education in a beautiful and enriching environment for ages 2 through Kindergarten.

According to the Montitute Montessori Training Institute / Source: “(…) Over the years Montessori established her reputation as an educator who could accomplish miracles with children who presented special challenges. However, Montessori was becoming increasingly interested in apply her educational approach to normal children. The opportunity came to her itself when she was offered the position to run a day-care center that was being organized for the working-class children, who were too young to attend public schools in San Lorenzo, one of the worst slums of Rome. Although many of her colleagues and family members disapproved the idea, Montessori, like always, took on the challenge and grasped the opportunity of working with normal children. Bringing some of the educational materials she had developed at the Orthophrenic School she established the first Montessori school in one large room with one co-worker”.

About Maria Montessori’s Life:

Maria Tecla Artemisia Montessori was born on August 31, 1870, in Chiaravalle Italy (about 20 kilometers from the Adriatic and the town of Ancona. Her father Alessandro was an accountant in the civil service and her mother Renilde Stoppani was well educated and had a passion for reading.

Maria attended a school in Rome with a focus on science and engineering. In 1890, against opposition from her father, she pursued her goal of becoming a doctor. In 1896 she became the first woman to obtain a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Rome.

Soon after her medical career began, Dr. Montessori became involved in the Women’s Rights movement.

In 1897, Dr. Montessori joined (as a volunteer) a research program at the psychiatric clinic of the University of Rome. This work initiated a deep interest in the needs of children with learning disabilities. In particular, she focused on the work of two early 19th century Frenchmen, Jean-Marc Itard (who had made his name working with the “wild boy of Aveyron“) and Edouard Séguin, his student. Montessori was appointed as co-director of a new institution called the Orthophrenic School.

At the age of 28, Montessori began advocating the belief that the lack of support for mentally and developmentally disabled children was the cause of their delinquency. The notion of social reform became a strong theme throughout Maria’s life, whether it was for gender roles or advocacy for children.

Dr. Montessori opened the first Casa dei Bambini (The House of Children) in 1907 at 58 Via dei Marsi in Rome. (See: Photo from the opening day).

By 1909, Dr. Montessori gave the first training course in her new approach to about 100 students. Her notes from this period provided the material for her first book published that same year in Italy, appearing in translation in the United States in 1912 as The Montessori Method and later translated into 20 languages.

A period of great expansion in the Montessori approach soon followed.

Montessori societies, training programs, and schools sprang to life all over the world and a period of travel with public speaking and lecturing occupied Dr. Montessori, much of it in America, but also in the UK and throughout Europe.

Montessori long held the ambition of creating her own permanent, long-standing center for research and development but she was held back by the rise of fascism in Europe. Montessori schools were closed by Nazis and both books and effigies were burned.

In 1939, Maria and her son Mario went to India to lecture. Initially only intending to stay there for three months, the trip lasted seven years as, because they were Italian, the outbreak of war saw Mario interned and Maria put under house arrest. In India, Maria trained over a thousand Indian Teachers.

Upon her return to Europe, Maria addressed UNESCO in 1947 with the theme of Education and Peace and ultimately received three nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. She is held in great admiration today as an educator, scientist, physician, philosopher, and Feminist.