Dr. Maria Montessori was trained as a scientist and a doctor, born in 1870 in Chiaraville, in the Ancona province of Italy. She developed two principles to what was forming as her method: observation and experimentation.
The main difference in Montessori’s teaching method at that time was that the children were encouraged rather than repressed. It was a fundamental difference in approach, and she knew that children could achieve amazing results if given the chance to empower themselves in their classroom environment.
On January 6, 1907, Maria Montessori began her work with a group of 50 children in what became the first Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House. The first principle of Montessori’s work is the freedom to repeat. Montessori observed that the children had great concentration. Montessori was struck by the children’s ability to concentrate in such depth. She established the principle of freedom to repeat so that a child could repeat whatever task she was doing as often as she liked.
The second principle is the freedom to move. The children wanted to get up, to move around and to put the materials back themselves. They also wanted to choose the materials to work with. Montessori could also see that they should have the freedom to choose. She felt that she was seeing that children knew what they wanted to do and what they needed to do.
Being able to talk or write about what they were doing, to themselves and to others, was another important principle they established: the freedom to communicate. And perhaps most importantly, Montessori felt that she could see that they wanted to have the freedom to work. She noticed that most often the children chose work over play.
There were three central components in what Montessori began to comprise as her method. These were components that Montessori was developing, on-site, as she observed and experimented. Montessori was learning that an environment that was orderly and beautiful was essential to the development of the children. She found that as the children became comfortable in the space, they also wanted and needed it to be orderly. In the same way, the adult who was in charge, the “guide,” needed to be prepared. She needed to present herself in an orderly way and to understand the principles as well as be able to present the materials.
Montessori “followed the children” in that first Casa dei Bambini. She observed, and she interviewed the guides often. The children showed her that they had a need for order. They most often chose work over toys. The elaborate toys that had been provided to them were not what the children returned to, but rather to the materials that they wanted to work with.
- The children had no need for rewards or punishments. They were intrinsically motivated and had no need for praise.
- The children also had a strong sense of dignity. They did not want to be talked down to, or shouted at.
- Spontaneous discipline occurred in that first classroom. Adults could walk out of the room and children could quite easily manage themselves.
And so began a movement in education: a new way of thinking about how to work with children.
Maria Montessori created an educational movement that continues to inspire teachers, trainers, parents, and most importantly, children. When first describing her work with the children of the Casa dei Bambini in San Lorenzo, Rome, Italy, Montessori described her work as a series of revelations:
“You must realize that what happened was something so great and so stirring that its importance could never be sufficiently recognized. That it will never be sufficiently studied is certain, for it is the secret of life itself. We cannot fully know its causes. It is not possible that it came because of my method, for at the time my method did not yet exist. This the clearest proof that it was a revelation that emanated from the children themselves. My educational method has grown from these as well as from many other revelations, given by the children. You know from what I have told you, that all the details included in the method, have come from the efforts to follow the child. The new path has been shown us. No one knows exactly how it arose; it just came into being and showed us the new way.It has nothing to do with any educational method of the past, nor with any educational method of the future. It stands alone as the contribution of the child himself. Perhaps it is the first of its kind, which has been built by him step by step.”
The Montessori Movement is now over 100 years old, with an international reputation for excellence as an educational method. Understanding the history of the method leads a student to an understanding of her place within this work, and the possibility for her own discoveries and her own future as a Montessori teacher.
(This content is excerpted from a longer paper by Nanci Olesen, Montessori Training Center of Minnesota, 2010).