“So, what is Montessori?”
You’ve been asked this question again and you think to yourself… ‘I’m delighted that you’re interested, but how do I respond in a concise manner while still managing to do justice to this comprehensive approach to education?’ Even as someone who has gone through rigorous training to become a Montessorian, I still struggle with my “elevator speech,” if you will, but here goes nothing…
Historical Roots + An Overview
Montessori Education was founded by Dr. Maria Montessori, a physician (one of the first female doctors in Italy!), anthropologist, and pedagogue, in Italy in the early 1900s, while she was working with young children in a housing project in inner city Rome. It is a thoughtful, comprehensive curriculum, which emerged from Montessori’s work of studying children from all racial, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds for more than fifty years. Maria Montessori recognized that the child possesses an inner teacher and has a mind that is able to absorb information effortlessly (especially in the first six years of life).
The trained teachers (referred to as “directresses” or “guides”) meticulously prepare the multi-age environments with children’s developmental needs in mind. They observe the children and present lessons based on each child’s interests and abilities. There is an emphasis on active, hands-on, sensorial learning, which is consistent with research that suggests that children gain information through direct experiences with their environments. The ingenious Montessori auto-didactic materials are designed in a way that is self-correcting, which allows for the children to ultimately educate themselves. The Montessori approach is holistic in nature, as the curriculum is not solely focused on academic achievement, but also emotional, social, physical, and cognitive development. The goal of the Montessori classroom is to foster the child’s natural desire to learn, to establish the ability to concentrate, to cultivate independence—all in an orderly, aesthetically pleasing environment. It is also about raising capable, well adjusted, socially conscious, and culturally informed citizens of the world.
Montessori as Social Reformer
In addition to being an Educationalist, Dr. Montessori was also an avid advocate of social reform. She expressed sharp criticisms of human society and the rampant greed that existed within it. The first book written by Dr. Montessori that I read was her seminal text, “The Absorbent Mind,” in which she promptly stated: “Society’s first step must be to allocate a higher proportion of its wealth to education.” She firmly believed that education was the most significant vehicle by which the greatest social change can be achieved.
She felt that aiding in the harmonious development of the child who is “the maker of men” was the way to transform society. “Social Peace and harmony can have only one foundation: man himself,” she wrote. She argued that society was not “adequately preparing man for civic life” and that “human beings are brought up to regard themselves as isolated individuals who must satisfy their immediate needs by competing with other individuals.” For Dr. Montessori, this was deeply problematic and the implications were far too great.
Subsequently, she dedicated her life’s work to establishing a robust, non-competitive method of education, one that emphasizes intellectual exploration, critical thinking, the responsibilities of living in a community, and social, emotional, physical, psychological, and cognitive development, all in a beautiful environment, which has been thoughtfully prepared by an adult who understands child development very well and acts a guide to help children discover their own natural, unique path.She was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
I know you likely still have many questions.