What is Montessori?
Maria Montessori (August 31, 1870 – May 6, 1952) was an Italian physician, educator, philosopher, and humanitarian; she is best known for her philosophy and the Montessori method of education of children from birth to adolescence. Her educational method is in use today in a number of public as well as private schools throughout the world.
Introduction to the methodology in practice
With the opening of her first school in 1907 in Rome, the term Montessori became associated with schools that use Dr. Montessori’s educational approach to children as well as her precise educational materials tailored for children’s developmental needs. A number of schools around the world implement her approach to education for a wide range of ages. “From the moment the child enters the classroom, each step in his education is seen as a progressive building block, ultimately forming the whole person, in the emergence from childhood to adult. All focus is on the needs of the child.”  One distinguishing feature of Montessori at the preschool age is that children direct their own learning, choosing among the sections of a well-structured and stocked classroom including Practical Life (fine and gross motor skill development), Sensorial (sensory and brain development), Language, Math, Geography, Science and Art. The role of a teacher is to introduce children to materials and then remain a “silent presence” in the classroom.
The Montessori philosophy is built upon the idea that children develop and think differently than adults; that they are not merely “adults in small bodies”. Dr. Montessori advocated children’s rights, children working to develop themselves into adults, and that these developments would lead to world peace. The Montessori method discourages traditional measurements of achievement (grades, tests) under the premise that it is damaging to the inner growth of children (and adults). Feedback and qualitative analysis of a child’s performance does exist but is usually provided in the form of a list of skills, activities and critical points, and sometimes a narrative of the child’s achievements, strengths and weaknesses, with emphasis on the improvement of those weaknesses.
The premises of a Montessori approach to teaching and learning include the following:
- A view of children as competent beings capable of self-directed learning.
- That children learn in a distinctly different way from adults.
- The ultimate importance of observation of the child interacting with her or his environment as the basis for ongoing curriculum development. Presentation of subsequent exercises for skill development and information accumulation are based on the teacher’s observation that the child has mastered the current exercise(s).
- Delineation of sensitive periods of development, during which a child’s mind is particularly open to learning specific skills or knowledge, including language development, sensorial experimentation and refinement, and various levels of social interaction.
- A belief in the “absorbent mind”, that children from birth to around age 6 possess limitless motivation to achieve competence within their environment and to perfect skills and understandings. This phenomenon is characterized by the young child’s capacity for repetition of activities within sensitive period categories, such as exhaustive babbling as language practice leading to language competence.
- That children are masters of their environment, which has been specifically prepared for them to be academic, comfortable, and allow a maximum amount of independence.
- That children learn through discovery, so didactic materials that are self-correcting are used as much as possible.
Famous Montessori Students
Since Dr. Montessori established her first school in 1907, students throughout the world have reaped the benefits of her pioneering efforts. The following individuals are some of the famous students who have attended Montessori schools:
- Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google, credit their Montessori education for much of their success
- Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com
- Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
- Julia Child
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Prize-winning novelist
- Anne Frank, famous child diarist from World War II
- Prince William and Prince Harry
- T. Berry Brazelton, noted pediatrician and author
- Melissa and Sarah Gilbert, actresses
Below are some other prominent individuals who endorse to the Montessori method.
Alexander Graham Bell helped to start one of the first Montessori schools in the United States. Mister Rogers voiced strong support of Montessori education. Thomas Edison helped to establish a Montessori school. Woodrow Wilson’s daughter trained as a Montessori teacher and had a Montessori classroom in the basement of the White House during her father’s presidency. Alice Waters, well known restaurateur and food writer, worked as a Montessori teacher. Erik Erikson, noted anthropologist and author, held a Montessori teaching certificate. Jean Piaget, noted Swiss psychologist, made his first observations of children in a Montessori school. He was the head of the Swiss Montessori Society for many years.