In 1906, Maria Montessori, Italy’s first female physician, was invited by businessmen to develop a school for the low-income and “unteachable” children of Rome, to keep them off the streets. Through this work, she developed her novel theories about child development and education. The first Montessori classroom was equipped with a teacher’s table and blackboard, a stove, small armchairs, group tables for the children, and a locked cabinet for Montessori’s experimental materials.
Despite such meager resources, Montessori’s results were nothing short of remarkable. More than 100 years later, private and public Montessori schools throughout the world have shown that by utilizing her method, children of all talents and abilities can grow into highly capable and intellectually curious students, while gaining sustained attention, concentration, self-discipline, and self-knowledge, often at levels considered far beyond their years.
Montessori schools today are built upon concepts she discovered by observing children at work:
Montessori recognized that at a young age, sensorial work is vital for learning (sensorial comes from the words sense or senses, such as touch or smell). Through work with materials that are tactile and experiential, the child is given the key to exploring the world around her and classifying her surroundings. These are the first steps in organizing her intelligence.
All of the materials used in a “prepared environment” are aesthetically pleasing, made of natural materials such as glass and wood. This creates a tranquil and homelike atmosphere that Montessori called the Casa di Bambini (Children’s House). He will feel a sense of peace while he works, which is the best frame of mind for effective learning for take hold. This also fosters a sense of community and ownership of the classroom, thereby learning to respect his environment. By interacting with his environment daily, he begins to see it as something very special, a world of possibilities and a source for new things to discover.
The teacher is positioned among the students and spends his or her time observing them and therefore becoming sensitive to their individual personalities, skill levels, emotional nature and learning styles. Students choose their work for the day, under the watchful eye and gentle guidance of the teacher. This allows every student to work at his or her own pace, pursuing and uncovering knowledge as excited, engaged scientists in exploration of the world around them.
The work done by the child is for the child, not the parent. In a Montessori environment, children are motivated to work by their own internal drive. When they bring home work, they present it because they are proud of what they have done, not because they believe it has been expected of them. This fosters their intrinsic motivation rather than working simply rewards.