SCIENTIFIC OBSERVATION HAS ESTABLISHED that education is not what
the teacher gives; education is a natural
process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by
experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of
cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive
interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing
so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a
victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society.
- Maria Montessori, Education for a New World
THE WOMAN & HER METHOD
Just WHO WAS THIS WOMAN who began an educational revolution that
changed the way we think about children more than anyone before or since?
Maria Montessori, born in 1870, was the first woman in Italy to receive a medical degree. She worked 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 those of
us raising and educating children are in these areas:
- Preparing the most natural and life supporting environment for the child
- Observing the child living freely in this environment
- Continually adapting the environment in order that the child may fulfill his greatest potential -- physically,
mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Supposing I said there was a planet without schools or teachers, study was unknown, and yet the inhabitants - doing
nothing but living and walking about - came to know all things, to carry in their minds the whole of learning: would
you not think I was romancing? Well, just this, which seems so fanciful as to be nothing but the invention of a
fertile imagination, is a reality. It is the child's way of learning. This is the path he follows. He learns
everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so passes little from the unconscious to the conscious,
treading always in the paths of joy and love.
THE EARLY YEARS
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
The news of the unprecedented success of her work in this Casa dei Bambini "House of Children" soon spread around
the world, people coming from far and wide to see the children for themselves. Dr. Montessori was as astonished as
anyone at the realized potential of these children.
FROM EUROPE TO THE UNITED STATES
INVITED TO THE USA BY ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL, Thomas Edison, and
others, Dr. Montessori spoke at Carnegie Hall in 1915. She was invited to set up a classroom at the Panama-Pacific
Exposition in San Francisco, where spectators watched twenty-one children, all new to this 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.
INDIA AND THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE
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.
SINCE HER DEATH AND INTEREST
in Dr. Montessori's methods have
continued to spread throughout the world. Her message to those who emulated her was always to turn one's attention
to the child, to "follow the child". It is because of this basic tenet, and the observation guidelines left by her,
that Dr. Montessori's ideas will never become obsolete.
MANY PEOPLE, HEARING OF THE HIGH ACADEMIC LEVEL reached by students
in this system of education, miss the point
and think that Montessori math manipulative (as an example) is all there is to the Montessori method. It is easy
to acquire materials and to take short courses to learn to use them, but the real value of Montessori takes long
and thorough training for the adult.
THE POTENTIAL OF THE CHILD IS NOT JUST MENTAL,
but is revealed only when the complete "Montessori method" is
understood and followed. The child's choice, practical work, care of others and the environment, and above all the
high levels of concentration reached when work is respected and not interrupted, reveal a human being that is
superior not only academically, but emotionally and spiritually, a child who cares deeply about other people and the
world, and who works to discover a unique and individual way to contribute. This is the essence of real "Montessori"
- By Permission of the Michael Olaf Montessori Company - www.michaelolaf.net