About Maria Montessori
Maria Montessori (1870-1952) created the Montessori Method of education for the preschool child and was the first woman to receive (1894) a medical degree in Italy. After working with what was then called “subnormal” children, she pioneered instruction for them, especially through the use of an environment rich in manipulative materials. The success of her school led her to question the educational system for “normal” children, and in 1907, she opened her first Case Dei Bambini in a slum area of Rome. Her success there led to the establishment of many centers based on her method; the first one in the United States was founded in 1912.
Montessori believed that education could be defined as the self-development or spontaneous learning of a child in a prepared environment. She developed the ideas of child-sized furniture, concrete to abstract materials, and an emphasis on cognitive development and sensory training that are now used in most child learning centers.
The two most important keys to the Montessori Method are the environment and the teacher. The teacher is the link between the children and the materials, prepared and arranged on the shelves by this teacher. But the teacher remains secondary to the children themselves and creates an atmosphere of peace and comfort in the classroom.
The six fundamental elements of a Montessori classroom are
- Freedom: children are free to move about their environment, choose their own activities after the initial lesson, and interact with other children in a respectful and peaceful way;
- Structure and order: materials are grouped according to an intellectual area and sequenced according to their degree of difficulty on shelves easily reached by the child; no one is allowed to interrupt or interfere with the child's work and the child must return it to its place in the same condition that the child found it;
- Reality and nature: all materials are authentic although child-sized and there is only one of each set of materials so that the child is encouraged to learn to wait or to choose an alternative; plants and animals are cared for in the environment;
- Beauty and order: well-made materials are arranged in an open and attractive manner;
- Materials that stimulate the child's attention span and encourage a focus of attention in the areas of practical life, sensorial, and academic including mathematical, language, writing, reading, geography, and science;
- Development of a community life through mixed ages, children’s responsibility for the care of the environment, and the respect shown for their work and others.