Thoughts on The Montessori Method and Montessori Philosophy
An idea fundamental to Montessori philosophy is that the child has an innate desire to develop her human potential in all its dimensions. Equally intrinsic to Montessori philosophy is the belief that the young child has an “absorbent” mind. Maria Montessori believed that just as a baby learns to walk and talk spontaneously and without the direction of an adult, so is the child able to absorb and process all sorts of information from her environment, and in effect, to teach herself. Thus, Maria Montessori believed that the primary job of childhood is for the child to “create” herself.
Maria Montessori was the first woman accepted by the University of Rome Medical school and was graduated with honor in 1896. She did a great deal of her early work in children’s wards of the local hospitals and went on to work with retarded children under the supervision of Itard and Seguin, innovative scientists of the time. Using their methods and didactic materials, she worked extensively with the education of these children. At the end of her work with them, many of them passed the state tests on a level with the normal children. Montessori then concluded that there was something wrong with the regular education program and devoted the remainder of her life to studying and improving that education. Many of her recommendations such as movable tables and chairs, the need for special nutrition, and time out of doors came from her background as a physician.
In 1903, Montessori was asked to start a special program which she named “Casa de Bambini” or “Classroom” for the children of working parents in a new public housing area in the San Lorenzo district of Rome. The developers hoped that with organized activities, the children would not mark the walls and be otherwise destructive to the new buildings. By observing these children and their teachers (whom she called Directress) Montessori further developed her philosophy of education.
Through these undertakings, Montessori became aware of the value of a prepared environment, which meets the child’s needs, and of a child’s need for joy in learning. This philosophical framework leads to the Montessori environment: an environment that is carefully planned to include materials that meet the cognitive and developmental needs of the child, and which enable the child to learn through her personal interactions with the environment. Because the child has been prepared for each new material she is able to proceed at her own rate. The self-correcting characteristics of each exercise, combined with the fact that the child has been prepared for each new step, leads to successful experiences which lead to further successful experiences.