The Montessori movement takes its name from its founder, Dr Maria Montessori who opened the first children’s house in 1907.
Maria Montessori was a renowned scientist and the first female doctor in Italy. Her lifelong interest in children’s health and education led her to develop a prepared environment for children that stressed the development of self-motivation, respect and independence.
She realised that young children learn through sensory exploration of their environment. Her concepts are widely used, and today Montessori is the single largest educational philosophy in the world, with 22,000 Montessori schools in more than 100 countries.
The focus of a Montessori environment is on building community; it encourages collaboration not competition. It is an environment full of manipulative materials that invite children to engage in learning of their individual choice.
Under the guidance of a trained teacher, children learn by making discoveries with the materials, cultivating concentration, motivation, self-discipline and a true love for learning.
Children who attend a Montessori school have been exposed to such a rich curriculum, and encouraged to problem-solve, and think independently, as well as pursue their own interests, that they become confident, resourceful and happy.
Research shows that Montessori children are not only well prepared for primary school, but also well prepared for life. Many highly innovative and successful people have credited their Montessori pre-school education with its encouragement to think for oneself, be self-directed and follow their curiosity.
Former Montessori students, well known for their initiative, creativity, and self-confidence include Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Bill Gates, Anne Frank, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julia Child, Andrew Lloyd Webber, to name a few.
Only recently has science caught up with the observations Montessori made over 100 years ago.
Dr. Montessori was a much admired woman and supported by, among others, Mahatma Ghandi who promoted the opening of Montessori schools in India. He agreed whole heartedly with Dr Montessori when she said for there to be real peace in this world we have to begin with children
Montessori saw that very young children like to do things for themselves and that what they need is to have specific exercises, as closely linked to real life as possible, that allow them to master the tasks that they see going on around them in everyday life.
Therefore in a Montessori classroom you are much more likely to see children doing real washing, cleaning and cooking than pretend. Practical Life activities develop a child’s motor skills, co-ordination of movement, and sense of order. They also increase a child’s concentration, independence, responsibility, self-esteem, and encourage their contribution to society.
Children work with an enthusiasm and sustained interest that is truly amazing when their environment contains materials that correspond to their internal developmental needs.
Dr Montessori recognised that the senses must be educated first in the development of the intellect and she created special learning materials which guide the child to discovery.
Maria Montessori discovered which modern research now confirms, that children of age 3-6 are in a sensitive period for language acquisition and therefore need a language rich environment. A young child's vocabulary is one of the most important predictors of their future literacy, and in turn one of the most accurate predictors of their educational success.
Giving children precise, descriptive language to express themselves and their experiences is an important part of a Montessori environment. This oral foundation is built upon as children are ready and interested, by introducing phonetic sounds and word building, moving the children towards reading and writing as another means of expression.
Montessori believed that children have mathematical minds and she revolutionised the way in which mathematics is experienced. Her aim was to make concrete the abstract qualities of mathematical concepts by allowing the child to feel, touch, and manipulate number and quantity in a very concrete way. She developed a wonderful set of materials, many of which have now been copied by educators throughout the world.
Young children are full of curiosity and love learning about the world and their place in it. Montessori therefore tried to find ways to help them understand the world beyond their own environments. She developed a wide range of beautiful materials that allows children to gain an appreciation of biology, geography, zoology, science, history and culture.