“Maria Montessori is probably the best known of the thinkers. She was the first Italian female physician, and, years ahead of her time, was a feminist and a children's advocate. She became intrigued with the education of young children for various reasons. She did not like the rigidity of Italian public education and was concerned about the education of children who were mentally retarded or delayed. Montessori abandoned her role in medicine at a time when Italy's economy was precarious, when many families lived in poverty and in facilities without regard to health and safety. As she pondered her concerns about the situation, a reform movement brought about programs of employment for parents. That was the good news. The bad news was that children were left alone for long days.”
“The situation of children without care attracted Montessori's attention. Influenced by what she knew as a physician and by her efforts to educate "deficient children," she developed Children's Houses (Casas dei Bambini)—schools for children living in the tenement apartments of Rome. Montessori's ideas were reshaped over the years as she worked with both poor and wealthy children, as society changed, and as her ideas were transported to other countries, specifically the United States. To begin to understand her ideas, it's important to look at Montessori's five dominant beliefs:
What do these statements mean? Basically, Montessori believed that children could grow and develop very well if left to do so without too many restrictions but with an orderly environment that promoted their efforts at being independent and critical thinkers. Her approach was scientific in that it evolved from studying children and what they could do and in that she prescribed both teaching techniques and materials for her schools.
Montessori urged teachers to conduct naturalistic observations of children in carefully prepared environments. This refers to the orderly environments we talked about in Montessori's beliefs—environments planned to promote the children's freedom to take care of their own needs and freedom from dependency on others (the goals described in her beliefs). Teachers in a Montessori program are to observe and direct children's learning, so they are called directresses rather than teachers.
If you walked into a Montessori program, you would likely see several rooms for different purposes, child-sized furniture and equipment, real dishes and other items, flowers and plants, and well-organized materials with careful storage and labeling. Materials, which are a very important aspect of the curriculum, are generally carefully crafted. They are displayed in open shelves for children's independent use. Many materials are graded in difficulty; that is, they range from simple to use to very difficult or complex to use. Montessori's materials are often autotelic, or self-correcting, so that the child has immediate feedback.
"Dr. Maria Montessori believed that no human being is educated by another person. She must do it herself or it will never be done. A truly educated individual continues learning long after hours and years she spends in the classroom because she is motivated from within by a natural curiosity and love for knowledge. Dr. Montessori felt, therefore, that the goal of early childhood education should not be to fill the child with facts from a pre-selected course of studies, but rather to cultivate her own natural desire to learn.
In the Montessori classroom this objective is approached in two ways: first, by allowing each child to experience the excitement of learning by her own choice rather than by being forced; and second, by helping her to perfect all her natural tools for learning, so that her ability will be at a maximum in future learning situations. The Montessori material have this dual long-range purpose in addition to their immediate purpose of giving specific information to the child"