Maria Montessori, born in 1870, was the first woman in Italy to receive a medical degree. She studied in the fields of psychiatry, education and anthropology. She believed that each child is born with a unique potential to be revealed, rather than as a "blank slate" waiting to be written upon. Her main contributions to the work of raising and educating children are in these areas:
• Preparing the most natural and life-supporting environments for the child
• Observing the child living freely in this environment
• Continually adapting the environment in order that the child may fulfill his or her greatest potential, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Maria Montessori was always a little ahead of her time. At age thirteen, against the wishes of her father but with the support of her mother, she began to attend a boys' technical school. After seven years of engineering she began premed and, in 1896 became a physician. In her work at the University of Rome psychiatric clinic, Dr. Montessori developed an interest in the treatment of special needs children and, for several years, she worked, wrote, and spoke on their behalf.
In 1907 she was given the opportunity to study "normal" children, taking charge of fifty poor children of the dirty, desolate streets of the San Lorenzo slum on the outskirts of Rome. The news of the unprecedented success of her work in this Casa de Bambini, "House of Children", soon spread around the world, people coming from all over the world to see the children for themselves.
Maria Montessori was invited to the United States by Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and others to speak at Carnegie Hall in 1915. She was asked to set up a classroom at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, where spectators watched twenty-one children, all new to the Montessori method, behind a glass wall for four months. The only two gold medals awarded for education went to this class, and the education of young children was altered forever.
During World War II Dr. Montessori was forced into exile from Italy because of her antifascist views and lived and worked in India. It was here that she developed her work Education for Peace, and developed many of the ideas taught in her training courses today. She was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Today, Montessori schools are found throughout the world and may go through high-school level. Still, Montessori preschools are more common than Montessori schools for the upper levels. Montessori principles can easily be used at home as well as in schools. But, to only define Montessori as a method of education doesn’t do it justice. The Montessori Method was developed through observation of the child, with the individualized needs of each child as a primary focus.
Montessori education is devoted to helping each child achieve his or her potential and develop a lifelong love of learning. An attractive and orderly prepared environment, unique learning materials, and special way of viewing and teaching the child are essential parts of Montessori education. The teacher in a Montessori class acts as a source of guidance and gentle direction. Whether the child is ready to learn how to tie shoes, how to differentiate shades of color, how to read, or how to understand the decimal system, the child determines the major educational direction. While the children develop inner direction and discipline, the teacher provides freedom within limits.
Although acceleration of learning may occur with Montessori education, it’s a by-product rather than the goal. The goal is to provide carefully prepared conditions which foster love of learning, independence, self-discipline, and a joyous response to life. The manner in which subjects are taught is one which simply meets the child’s need for knowledge and self-development.
Montessori said: “the child works in order to grow, and is working to create the adult, the person that is to be”.
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