Maria Montessori has often been described as one of history’s mould-breakers. Born in Italy in 1870 Montessori excelled in mathematics and the sciences, and at the age of 24 she graduated as Italy’s first female physician, before going on to become the architect of the Montessori approach to education, commonly referred to today as the Montessori method.
Maria had an especially creative mind. Her work as a physician brought her national acclaim and she quickly rose in her field of paediatrics, a subject in which she taught. Her main area of interest was child development and psychology and believed strongly that young children to be primarily sensorial learners, needing to actively engage all the senses in order to build knowledge. But although she often spoke out against what she saw as the inadequacies of the exisiting education system, her reputation as an educationalist really came about by chance.
The method emerged through Montessori’s early observations of a group of children placed in her care whom, by way of experiment, she provided with a selection of specially designed auto-didactic (self-teaching) materials which engaged all the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. What Montessori observed was not only a significant advance in learning but also a fundamental change in the children’s way of being, manifesting in deep concentration, calmness and a surprising degree of self-discipline whilst working in this specially prepared learning environment. She believed this ordered and harmonious behaviour pattern to be a child’s natural state of being, and that the structure and composition of the learning environment was key in helping to elicit this. And with it came the understanding that the learning environment itself plays an equally important role in the early learning process as that of the teacher.
She examined the major works in the field of education and found that her discovery presented child development and assumptions of the early learning process in an altogether new light, placing the child her/himself directly at the centre – indeed as the leader – of the learning process rather than a mere adjunct to it. This was a view of the child that would contrast sharply with that of common held belief and call for a complete reassessment of the teacher-pupil, indeed the adult-child relationship.
Montessori presented her findings to acadaemia and drew much critical acclaim from the prominent educators and educational psychologists of the time. She extended her work, gradually developing more learning materials as she did so, and found that her initial insights were to pave the way for a series of radical concepts describing the process of early learning.
Dr. Montessori spent the rest of here life working with children and both writing about and tutoring in the method which she later expanded to include older age groups, and established a number of organizations and schools across North America, Europe, and Asia to continue her work.
Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize more than once for her creation of an education system designed to foster peace.
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