Many people will have heard the name 'Montessori' and probably associate it with nursery education. However, very few people really know what it means or much about its founder.
Maria Montessori was born in 1870 in Italy, the only child of a middle class family. As she studied to become a teacher, the only career open to young ladies at that time, she showed a keen interest in science and determined to become a doctor. After battling with the prejudices of the time she eventually graduated to become the first woman Doctor of Medicine in Italy.
Whilst working with children with what we would now call special educational needs, she developed her ideas of 'education of the senses' and 'education of movement' under the influence of French educationalists Jean Itard and Edouard Seguin.
Under her tutelage such children achieved startling results and passed the Italian state examinations in reading and writing for normal children. She concluded that her methods might successfully be applied to all young children and she began to work with toddlers in private and public schools in Rome, her own infant school, 'Casa dei Bambini', being opened in 1906.
At first she encountered opposition from supporters of orthodox methods of education, but won through with the help of enthusiastic reformers, and in 1922 she was appointed government inspector of schools in Italy. She wrote several books on the system of education she developed and spent her later years supervising training courses all over the world.
Maria Montessori drew her ideas about how to handle and educate children from her observations of them at different stages of their development, and from her exposure to children of different cultures. She identified what she saw was common in all children and the 'universal characteristics of childhood', regardless of where the children were born or how they were brought up. She then set out to act as interpreter for children everywhere, advising adults to adopt a new approach to them and treat the period of childhood as an entity in itself, not merely a preparation for adulthood.
These characteristics can be summed up as follows:
All children have 'absorbent' minds
All children pass through 'sensitive' periods
All children want to learn
All children learn through play
All children pass through several stages of development
All children want to be independent
Having identified the universal characteristics of childhood, Maria Montessori then concentrated on hoe best to implement these discoveries in the bringing up and education of children. To do this, she formulated what is now called th Montessori Method. The main aims are:
To facilitate the development of the child's unique personality (my role: to allow freedom within limits, to respect the individuality of the child, to resist imposing my own will and personality on the child)
To help the child to become socially and emotionally well adjusted and grow up as a physically and happy child (my role: not to be overprotective of the child, not to make excessive demands on the child's affections, not to be authoritarian, not to be over permissive)
To help make it possible for the child to develop to his full intellectual capacity (my role: to allow the child to be active and enabling them to learn through sensory exploration of the world, to recognise the sensitive periods and to allow the child to repeat an activity until they have perfected it, to recognise the importance of motivation and how it affects learning)
If you would like further information about Maria Montessori or the Montessori Method, please do not hesitate to ask.