An Appreciation of Montessori

Early Childhood Education

img_3671_2The century in which we live has sometimes been called “The Century of the Child”; and it certainly is and there has never been another period in which so many movements centered around the child and its welfare have come about. No one has represented this movement better than the great Italian educationalist – Dr. Maria Montessori.

Dr. Montessori was among the earliest educational reformers to identify the first plane of development, from the child’s birth to 6-years old, as the critical phase to establish social, emotional, physical and intellect capacities. Today science validates Montessori’s emphasis on the importance of early years, including the latest findings in brain development, language acquisition, and preventive intervention.

Many others have loved children, worked for them, and with them; but no one has so completely understood the soul of the child in its depth and greatness and potential within the mysterious laws of development.

What Wordsworth said of the child – ‘Oh thou whose exterior semblance does believe thy soul’s immensity’ – was the foundation of Dr. Montessori’s work. It was the child himself, his soul, his person, which she cared about, not just ‘Education’ in the narrow sense of the word. Children are living, immortal souls that are entitled to as much reverence and respect – as persons – as adults. In fact, Montessori’s whole life’s work might be summed up as a defense of him whom she used to call Il cittadino dimenticato (‘The Forgotten Citizen’) and for the establishment of his rights.IMG_0501

Alone amongst the long line of great European educators – Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Herbart, etc. – she maintained that the one really essential preparation for a would-be teacher is a moral and spiritual one. No one, she said, is fit to direct the child’s development who has not striven to purge herself of those two sins, to which teachers are most prone, – Pride and Anger.

Most people think of Dr. Montessori as the founder of the educational method which bears her name, but her real significance lies deeper. She will go down in history as one who discovered and revealed to the world qualities in childhood different from and higher than those usually attributed to children. By giving freedom (in a biological sense) to children in a specially prepared environment, rich in motives of activities, she was able to show to an astonished world children of 41/2-51/2 years who learned to read and write spontaneously; who chose to work rather than play or eat sweets; who loved order and silence; who displayed long-sustained and quite spontaneous intellectual concentration; who developed a real social life in which mutual helpfulness took the place of competition; who, though able to carry on their life with astonishing independence of adult help, were nevertheless extraordinarily docile and obedient, and finally children in whom liberty, far from producing chaos, resulted in a hitherto unknown collective discipline.

Dr. Montessori was par excellence the great interpreter of the child: and though she herself has passed on from the scene of her labors her work will still go on. Indeed, it will last as long as children are born into this world to grow up in it with loving hearts, eager searching minds, and eyes wide open with wonder.

Does Montessori Method Work?

Montessori parents experience first-hand how this approach to education supports and nurtures children’s development in all areas: physical, intellectual, language, and social-emotional. According to scientific research, Montessori children have an advantage not only academically, but also in social and emotional development.

Dohrmann, K., “Outcomes for Students in a Montessori Program: A Longitudinal Study of the Experience in the Milwaukee Public Schools” (AMI/USA May, 2003). 

This is a summary of the longitudinal study of Milwaukee high school graduates showed that students who had attended Montessori preschool and elementary programs significantly outperformed a peer control group on math/science scores. “In essence,” the study found, “attending a Montessori program from the approximate ages of three to 11 predicts significantly higher mathematics and science standardized test scores in high school.”

Teacher Quality

IMG_3900The Montessori teachers are more than teachers. They have a skill set not common among many mainstream teaching environments. The teacher is known more as a “Directress”, because they have the capacity to observe carefully, differentiate instruction based on need and interest, provide opportunities to engage in hands-on learning, and to evaluate each individual child using both highly detailed knowledge and holistic interpretation of  the student’s progress.  Montessori method of teaching is grounded in a century-old tradition of highly detailed practice and is well documented in teachers’ albums, in Montessori’s writings and lectures, and in the collective experience of trainers. Montessori teachers acquire proper education to deliver the right skills to every child.

Read more about Montessori around the world at the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector.