Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was the first woman physician and surgeon in Italy, a fervent believer in equal opportunity for women and a champion of the rights of children. She is best known for founding a comprehensive system of education, called the Montessori Method.
She repeatedly said that she had not discovered a method of education, but rather the true nature of the child and his immense powers of development. She based her system on observations of children freely working and playing in learning environments she created, rather than on pre-conceived ideas of children and their development. “No one could have foreseen that children had concealed within themselves a vital secret capable of lifting the veil that covered the human soul, that they carried within themselves something which, if discovered, would help adults to solve their own individual and social problems.” (Montessori, 1966, pg.8)
Maria Montessori understood that the work of the child is essential to all humanity; this work is the construction of the man or woman of tomorrow. She observed and identified the natural characteristics of young children:
- Spontaneous interest and deep concentration
- Desire for purposeful movement
- Love of repetition
- Love of order
- Desire for freedom of choice
- Preference of work to play
- Indifference to rewards or punishments
- Love of silence
- Sense of personal dignity
- Early interest in reading and writing
- Spontaneous self-discipline
- Interest in the cosmos and the interrelation of all things
Maria Montessori developed what is now called the “Montessori Method” from her deep respect for these essential characteristics. She created a systematic approach to help each child fulfill his unique potential.
Montessori’s essential ideas of education are vastly different from the common conception of education as a curriculum of facts and information. She believed that education’s true role was as “help to life.” Central to her method is the prepared environment that allows each child to move at his or her own individual pace. She defined education as “external support for the soul in progress of its evolution.”
During more than forty years of working with children, Montessori wrote over a dozen books and gave thousands of lectures on child development. Montessori focused first on the young child from three to six years. She later explored and developed programs for infants and toddlers and for elementary school children. In her later years she outlined a program for adolescents and touched upon the developmental needs of the college-age student.
In this section of Pathway for Families, you will find regularly updated articles that introduce Montessori’s vital contributions to the field of education for children of all ages and stages of development.