In 1897, Maria Montessori joined the staff of the University of Rome as a voluntary assistant. One of her responsibilities is what led her to develop her educational philosophy. She was to visit asylums for the insane where she came across feebleminded children, unable to function in schools or families. Montessori found the children very responsive to doing work with their hands and bodies. In 1901 she returned to the University of Rome with a desire to study the mind instead of the body. In 1904 she was offered a job teaching as the professor of anthropology at the University of Rome. She accepted but in 1906 gave the job up to work with sixty young children of working families. With these sixty children she started a "Children's House"(casa del bambini) in San Lorenzo Rome. This children's home was an environment that offered the children the opportunity to develop their activities (Kramer, 1976). She began to notice how the children absorbed knowledge almost effortlessly from their surroundings which helped inspire her lifelong pursuit of educational reform.
The Montessori method is described as a way of thinking about whochildren are. As aphilosophy, it emphasizes the uniqueindividuality of each child, it also emphasizes that children are distinctly different from adults in the way they develop and think, that they aren't just "adults in small bodies". Dr. Montessori believed inchildren's rightsand the worth, value and importance of children . Comparisons to norms and standards measured by traditional educational systems are discouraged in Montessori practice, it is expected that some children will master some skills slower than others, and some skills faster. Instead, Montessori adherents believe that children should be free to succeed and learn without restriction or criticism. Dr. Montessori believed that rewards and punishments for behavior were damaging the inner attitudes of children and also people.
As an educationalapproach, the Montessori method's central focus is on the needs, talents, gifts, and special individuality of each child. The child controls the pace, topic and repetition of lessons independent of the rest of the class or of the teacher. Children who experience the joy of learning are believed to be happy, confident, and fulfilled.
Additional important skills emphasized by the Montessori method are self-reliance and independence. Independence is encouraged by teaching a child "practical life" skills, Montessori preschool children learn to dress themselves, help cook, clean, put their toys and clothes away and take an active part of their household, neighborhood and school. Montessori education carried through the elementary and high school years begins to encourage more group work but still relies on the student as the guide and guardian of his or her own intellectual development.
Montessori lessons work in a methodical way. Each step leads directly to a new level of learning or concept. When a child plays, he or she is really learning the basis for later concepts. Repetition of activities is considered an integral part of this learning process. Children are encouraged to repeat activities as often as they wish until they tire of them.
For young children, Montessori is a hands-on approach to learning. It encourages children to develop their observation skills by doing many types of activities. These activities include use of the five senses, kinetic movement, spatial refinement, small and large motor skill coordination, and concrete knowledge that leads to later abstraction..
For a primary education-stage child Montessori encourages a child to proceed at his or her own pace onto abstract thinking, writing, reading, science, mathematics and most importantly, to absorb his or her culture and environment. Culture is defined to include interaction with nature, art, music, religion, societal organizations, and customs. Many modern Montessori schools will also include studies of foreign cultures and languages. These cultural lessons are used to introduce concepts that will be used in reading comprehension, especially the use of nomenclature cards with both labels and pictures.
The adults are by no means the only source of informaton in the classroom and adults directing the children is not the norm. Adults are present to guide and help the child navigate his or her own learning process as the child receives knowledge, information and experience from the prepared environment.
The main goal of Montessori is to provide a stimulating, child oriented environment in which children can explore, touch, and learn without fear. In a Montessori classroom everything is oriented to the child: there is no teacher's desk or teacher's side of the room, because the teacher is only guide and facilitator, never dictator or director.
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