Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was a physician, educator, and six time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize who dedicated her life to the study, analysis and development of a scientifically grounded system that would inspire children to seek out learning according to their specific stage of development and individual innate character. The system that was developed is now known as Montessori education.
In 1896, Maria Montessori stepped beyond societal convention, familial disapproval, and institutional resistance, to become the first female physician in Italy. While recognised as an expert in paediatric medicine, she continued to broaden her education through studies in psychology, pedagogy, anthropology and philosophy. From her studies and onsite observations, she developed a system to help educate children with learning disabilities and was encouraged when some of these students, previously considered uneducable, were then able to pass public examinations.
In 1906, her methods were applied to normal children attending a school in the San Lorenzo district of Rome. Montessori observed these children engaging in periods of deep concentration with the prepared materials, returning to similar activities, and showing sensitivity to order in their environment. Given their choice of activity, these children preferred practical activities and using Montessori materials to playing with toys, revealing an internalised self-discipline and a natural curiosity. She reasoned that children could achieve greater autonomy and reach deeper levels of understanding by working directly with materials compared to receiving traditional instruction.
The classroom materials continued to evolve and were refined based on the level of interest of the children and their efficacy as learning tools.
The Montessori approach balances social development with academic understanding to promote social confidence and intellectual discipline. Sensitivity to each child’s natural curiosity and core “human tendencies” of communication, exploration, exactness and abstraction is the fundamental element within Montessori that builds the foundation for the child’s continued personal development. The Montessori trained guide prepares the classroom environment to attract and engage the child’s interest and curiosity. As the child is drawn toward specific areas and materials, the guide uses the opportunity to provide lessons in related areas. Children are free to choose their own enticing work and repeat it until they are satisfied. This nurtures concentration as well as self-discipline and grounds the child’s confidence and competence as a learner.