The Montessori Method
THE ORIGIN OF THE MONTESSORI MOVEMENT
The Montessori Method began with a study by Maria Montessori on children with mental disorders. Only later did the method extend to the education of all children. This is because Maria Montessori saw that her method had stimulating effects children with mental disorders. So, she believed that if she applied it to children without these disorders, she would be able to achieve even better results.
Montessori’s method hinges on the belief that the child needs “freedom”. Freedom is necessary for the child to be able to develop their creativity, which is innate in all children, but tends to be suppressed by the rules of society and by the continuous intervention of adults. This freedom will also instill in children a sense of responsibility and discipline.
In 1906, Maria Montessori was hired by Eduardo Talamo to educate the children of the workers in the district of San Lorenzo in Rome.
In 1907, she founded her first Casa dei Bambini— “Children’s Home” in Italian—using one of the new buildings that the Romano Beni Stabili Institute, directed by Talamo, built in the district.
This new structure was arranged and furnished in such a way that the children there could feel that it was their own, hence the name “Children’s Home”. This was the very first school, not for children with disabilities, but for the children of people living in that neighborhood. This was the beginning of the spread of Children's Homes throughout Italy and the rest of Europe. The Montessori Method was so successful that it eventually spread internationally as well.
Around 1920, Maria Montessori began to take an interest in newborn babies and she decided to adapt her method to fit very young children as well. She established two different areas for children: The Nursery for children from 2 to 15 months, and the Infant Community for children from 15 months to 2 and a half years.
The main activity in a Children's Home is focused on the movement of the child with the use of methodical exercises. Here the child has the opportunity to get in touch with a tailor-made environment and uses materials created specifically for their development. All the activities in this the method are made to perfect a child’s movements and develop their senses.
For example, one such activity is the "lessons of silence", where a child experiences perfect stillness. Here, their attention is shifted to listening to the sound of their own name being called behind a closed door. The child will try to reach that voice with coordinated and silent movements so as not to hit any objects around them and disturb the silence.
According to Montessori, a child must be free to finalize an action for a specific purpose. Only when the child coordinates their activities themselves and associates them to a specific end, will the child be ready to be disciplined.
In the early 1900s, a current of thought on scientific psychology began to spread. Montessori then started to based her pedagogical beliefs on the criticism of this current.
According to Montessori, simple observation with scientific measurement is not enough for children to learn. This is how she introduced science into the field of education, beginning with objective observation. This objectivity of observation focuses on the child’s "discovery" of a new object and the spontaneity of this action.
Children are true wells of creativity. According to Montessori, children have the potential to grow spontaneously in a free environment where they assimilate everything they need for their mental development.
There are scientifically sensory periods, called nebulae, where specific abilities are developed. In these periods, the child has a true "absorbent mind."
For example, the sensory period, ranging from ages three to four, is where a child’s fine motor skills develop. If this nebula is stimulated by the environment, the child can already manage to hold a pen or a pencil perfectly, because it refines the index/inch opposition. Montessori's objective, therefore, is to develop the child’s potential during these nebulae by creating a stimulating environment around them.
A very important phase of the Montessori Method is for children to discover and recognize the sounds of their own language to be able to combine them with the corresponding alphabetical sign.
A visual medium helps to analyze the way words sound. Discovering the infinite number of ways that the few letters of the alphabet can combine to form words will give rise to a child’s interest in learning to write.
Montessori, then, elaborates sequential phases of learning where she combines different exercises, techniques, and tools. This is how the Montessori method promotes learning to write—by leaving the student to practice and "experience" independently.
When the war began, during the era of Fascism, Montessori left Italy. Her method was a clear contradiction to the fascist ideology. She traveled the world and, for a while, settled down and taught in India. Her close contact with nature and Indian culture inspired her, and she began to introduce the concept of cosmic education into her methodology around 1942. This education aims to create and develop knowledge and love for nature, animals, peace, and life itself. Gardening is introduced in schools and where possible the care of small animals.
After 1942, the Montessori movement remained unchanged. Maria Montessori published many works and continued to teach all over the world.
She spread her passion and her beliefs about the way to teach children, knowing that the future of our world is theirs.
Today, this teaching methodology is still very much alive and present and is adopted in many schools.