Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952)
Dr. Montessori was born in Italy in 1870. In 1896, she graduated from the University of Rome as a doctor of medicine after completing a degree in natural sciences. She then started her medical career becoming the first woman Doctor in Italy.
In 1898, she became interested in education after her visits to asylums in Rome where she observed children with mental disabilities. In 1907, she opened a school called Casa asylums. In 1898, she became interested in education after her visits to dei Bambini, her first institution for children under six years of age. This enabled Dr. Montessori to create the "prepared learning" environment for children’s creative exploration. Over time, Montessori developed her educational method and spread her ideology throughout Europe and the United States.
In India, during World War II, she developed a program called Education for Peace. This work earned her two Nobel Peace Prize nominations.
Dr. Montessori died in Holland in 1952.
”I have studied the child. I have taken what the child has given me and expressed it and that is what is called the Montessori method.”
~ Dr. Maria Montessori
Dr. Montessori believed in children’s capabilities. Her method of teaching does not measure a child’s abilities by traditional educational standards. Dr. Montessori founded her method on the belief that children should be free to learn and succeed without criticism. It recognises the interests, needs, and special individuality of each child which leads to confident and competent children.
The Absorbent Mind:
Dr. Maria Montessori defined a phenomenon called The Absorbent Mind for children up to the age of six. During this age, the child is able to absorb knowledge quickly and effortlessly. Dr. Montessori said that the child constructs himself by learning unconsciously and taking in everything around him.
At this age, a child's brain is like a sponge which can soak a huge amount of information from his immediate surrounding environment. This happens naturally and quickly without thought or choice.
Maria Montessori believed that children pass through phases throughout their development. During these phases they have a sensitivity to learning a specific skill. She named these stages as ‘sensitive periods.' Each period of sensitivity lasts for as long as it is necessary for the child to achieve a particular stage in his/her development. These sensitive phases are transitory, and when the aim is completed, the unique sensitivity falls away.
Dr. Montessori identified six major sensitive periods to formulate her method of education. These are Sensitivity to order, Sensitivity to language, Sensitivity to walking, Sensitivity to the social aspects of life, Sensitivity to small objects, Sensitivity to learning through the senses. Parents and teachers can enhance children's learning during sensitive periods by ensuring adequate time and materials are available along with respect towards the individual interests and passions of each child.
The Prepared Environment:
A Montessori prepared environment gives the child an opportunity to develop naturally and follow his sensitive periods of learning and development. The essential components to facilitate and maximize independent learning and exploration in a prepared environment comprise a group of children, materials and a trained adult to maintain a unique environment. These components make an equilateral triangle image, and each side of it is equally important to make a stable construction.
"Stimulate the interest of the children in the kind of purposeful activities they need to further their general development."
~ Dr. Maria Montessori
The Montessori environment is full of purposeful activities to stimulate mental and physical involvement. The materials lend a feeling of respect, dignity and love to the child's work along with attracting their interest. The materials are well displayed, arranged on low open shelves, real, functional and proportioned to the child's body. The materials are naturally made of wood, glass, fabric, and ceramic; they are beautiful and often breakable. The materials aid a child's social development through practised patience, respect for another's work, and shared responsibility for community resources.