Montessori Education

Maria Montessori

Born: 31st August, 1870 Chiaravalle, Marche, Italy
Died: 6th May, 1952 Noordwijk, Netherlands

In 1898, she wrote several articles and spoke again at the First Pedagogical Conference of Turin, urging the creation of special classes and institutions for mentally disabled children, as well as teacher training for their instructors.  In 1906 Montessori was invited to oversee the care and education of a group of children of working parents in a new apartment building for low-income families in Rome. Montessori was interested in applying her work and methods to mentally normal children, and she accepted  The name Casa dei Bambini, or Children's House, was suggested to Montessori, and the first Casa opened on January 6, 1907, enrolling 50 or 60 children between the ages of two or three and six or seven.  At first, the classroom was equipped with a teacher's table and blackboard, a stove, small chairs, armchairs, and group tables for the children. Activities for the children included personal care such as dressing and undressing, care of the environment such as dusting and sweeping, and caring for the garden. The children were also shown the use of the materials Montessori had developed.   In this first classroom, Montessori observed behaviours in these young children which formed the foundation of her educational method. She noted episodes of deep attention, concentration, multiple repetitions of activity, and a sensitivity to order in the environment. Given free choice of activity, the children showed more interest in practical activities and Montessori's materials than in toys provided for them, and were unmotivated by sweets and rewards.  Based on her observations, Montessori implemented a number of practices that became hallmarks of her educational philosophy and method. She replaced the heavy furniture with child-sized tables and chairs light enough for the children to move, and placed child-sized materials on low, accessible shelves. She expanded the range of practical activities such as sweeping and personal care to include a wide variety of exercises for care of the environment and the self, including flower arranging, hand washing, care of pets, and cooking.  She felt by working independently children could reach new levels of autonomy and become self-motivated to reach new levels of understanding. Montessori also realized that acknowledging that all children were individuals and treating them as such would yield to better learning and fulfilled potential in each particular child. She continued to adapt and refine the materials she had developed Also based on her observations; Montessori experimented with allowing children free choice of the materials, uninterrupted work, and freedom of movement and activity within the limits set by the environment. She saw independence as the aim of education and the role of the teacher as an observer and director of children's innate psychological development.

The Montessori Environment
The environment is characterised as having a Montessori trained directress who directs and supports children through their sensitive periods whilst maintaining a diverse and interesting environment that supports children's work. The environment is prepared, and through its design it provides learning opportunities, utilising age specific Montessori materials presented to the child by the directress.
  • The Directress supports leaning, does not force it
  • Mixed age classrooms: older children are role models or leaders and pass on skills to younger children through peer engagement
  • Children take ownership of their learning
  • Adult interferance in the 'children's work' is seen as preventing children from pursuing their interests and blocks learning potential. Only when a material is used incorrectly or inappropriately (where there is no learning outcome) will the directress intervene
  • The Montessori environment is clean, inviting, supportive to children's work, child led, calming, respectful of others and the natural world, promotes independence
The Absorbent Mind, a definition
The mind is characterised as creative yet unconsious, a mind different to that of an adult: adults acquire knowledge, however the child absorbs it directly into the psyche. The absorbent mind does not choose if or what to absorb, moreover it is the genetics that dictate the process. Absorbent mind is influenced by the sensitive periods which allow it to acquire more specific skills required for survival and development.

Sensitive Periods, a definition
From age birth to six, during the period of the absorbent mind, the child goes through various "creative sensitivities" or "sensitive periods," or rather 'windows of opportunity' which run is unison but do not manifest themselves at the same time.
  • The child will be passionately absorbed with one aspect of the environment to the exclusion of the others
  • This moment enables a child to acquire a specific skill set or character trait or behaviour without any apparent effort of fatigue
  • Such periods are universal for children or all cultures
The sensitive periods are characterised by, order (age 1-3), language (age 0-6), refinement of the senses (age 2-4), refinement of movement (age 2-4 1/2).

Obstacles to the sensitive periods
  • Blocking a child from pursuing their interests
  • Lack of freedom to pursue their needs in relation to the environment
  • lack of positive experiences
  • Lack of diverse input required to support the need of the period: if a sensitive period is missed, in later life the skill may require effort to acquire, yet will not be fully absorbed in the mind.
  • tantrums are usually a reaction to an unfulfilled sensitive period
Sensitive periods are a vital stage in life where the personality is formed.