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Who Was Maria Montessori?

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Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was an Italian physician and anthropologist who devoted her life to understanding how children develop socially, intellectually, physically, and spiritually. By carefully observing children all over the world, she discovered universal patterns of development that are found in all children regardless of their culture or the era in which they live.

Dr. Montessori was one of the first women to be granted a diploma as a physician in Italy. Following her interest in human development, she assisted at a clinic for children with mental illnesses. She later directed the Orthophrenic School in Rome for children with physical, mental, and emotional challenges. During this time Dr. Montessori lectured throughout Europe concerning the needs of children and their value to the future of our societies. She stressed the need to change our attitudes about children and their treatment.

In 1907, Dr. Montessori was given the responsibility of caring for a group of children in Rome’s San Lorenzo slum district. She began to see the importance of a positive, nurturing environment that changes with the developmental needs of the child. As she observed the children and their response to the environment, she saw them demonstrate capabilities and interests that exceeded her expectations. The set of materials used in the "Montessori" environment were designed over a period of many years by Dr. Maria Montessori and her associates, creating a concrete, physical representation of the concepts and skills that children are naturally motivated to learn in their normal course of development.

Dr. Montessori conducted her first international training course in Italy in 1913, and her first American training course in California in 1915. As she carried her vision around the world, she felt that a time had come to ensure the quality and integrity of what was being handed down in her training courses. For that reason, she founded the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) in 1929. Today AMI continues to support quality teacher training worldwide.

Maria Montessori was a visionary, not easily daunted by the many challenges she faced during her career. She traveled extensively, lecturing and teaching throughout Europe, India, and the United States. She was recognized for her efforts by educators, psychologists, and political leaders of the day. Her associates included such people as Anna Freud, Erik Erikson, Mahatma Gandhi, Alexander Graham Bell, and Jean Piaget.
Dr. Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949, 1950, and 1951 and continued working, teaching, and writing up to the time of her death. Over the past one hundred years, children throughout the world have benefited from this educational approach that supports, nurtures, and protects natural development. Maria Montessori’s legacy lives on in the children whose lives are touched by her discoveries about life.

In her own words:
"My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that certification... but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their own activity, through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual." - Introduction, From Childhood to Adolescence, Clio

“… The children themselves found a sentence that expressed this inner need. “Help me to do it by myself!” How eloquent is this paradoxical request! …It is in this that our conception differs both from that of the world in which the adult does everything for the child and from that of a passive environment in which the adult abandons the child to himself” - The Secret of Childhood, p. 213

“I have served the spirits of those children, and they have fulfilled their development, and I kept them company in their experiences” - Absorbent Mind p. 284

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What is Montessori Education?

Montessori is a method of education that is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning, and collaborative play. In Montessori classrooms, children make creative choices in their learning, while the classroom and the highly trained teacher offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process. Children work in groups and individually to discover and explore the knowledge of the world and to develop their maximum potential.

Montessori classrooms are beautifully crafted environments designed to meet the needs of children in a specific age range. Dr.Maria Montessori discovered that experiential learning in this type of classroom led to a deeper understanding of language, mathematics, science, music, social interactions, and much more. Most Montessori classrooms are secular in nature, although the Montessori educational method can be integrated successfully into a faith-based program.

Every material in a Montessori classroom supports an aspect of child development, creating a match between the child’s natural interests and the available activities. Children can learn through their own experience and at their own pace. They can respond at any moment to the natural curiosities that exist in all humans and build a solid foundation for life-long learning.

The Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) was established by Maria Montessori in 1929 to protect the integrity of her work and to support high standards for both teacher training and schools. Today, AMI continues to uphold Maria Montessori’s vision while collaborating with contemporary research in neuroscience and child development. Montessori Northwest is proud to be an official teacher training center of AMI, training teachers to work with children from birth to age twelve.

Montessori environments support the learning of children from birth to middle school:

INFANT/TODDLER

for children ages birth to three years

  • provide a safe, engaging, and nurturing environment for the child

  • promote trust in themselves and their world

  • develop confidence in their emerging abilities

  • develop gross motor coordination, fine motor skills, and language skills

  • offer opportunities to gain independence in daily tasks

PRIMARY (ALSO CALLED THE CASA OR CHILDREN’S HOUSE)

for children ages three to six years

  • foster the growth of functional independence, task persistence, and self-regulation

  • promote social development through respectful, clear communication and safe, natural consequences

  • contain a large variety of materials for the refinement of sensory perception and the development of literacy and mathematical understanding

  • offer opportunities for imaginative exploration leading to confident, creative self-expression

ELEMENTARY

for children ages six to twelve years (Lower Elementary, ages six to nine; Upper Elementary, ages nine to twelve)

  • offer opportunities for collaborative intellectual exploration in which the child’s interests are supported and guided

  • support the development of self-confidence, imagination, intellectual independence, and self-efficacy

  • foster an understanding of the child’s role in their community, in their culture, and in the natural world

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