Who and what is Montessori?
Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was an Italian physician and a child developmental psychologist. She was also a humanist and a scientist gifted at observing and discerning pattern and process in human development. She was deeply committed to advocating for children and to supporting the growth of each child’s inner potential, regardless of socio-economic status. Dr. Montessori changed the way the turn-of-the-century world viewed both child development and formal education. And she has continued doing so, posthumously, ever since.
The Story Behind Montessori Education
Montessori’s insights into child development and education reform were sparked from her experiences in an Italian childcare facility in a poor district in Rome. There she worked with special needs and at-risk children. She was so moved and inspired by the social and academic changes in the population of children with whom she worked that she was deeply motivated to further refine and develop her pedagogy for other learners. She discovered that children, all children, innately want to learn, and that encouraging, respecting, and supporting the “whole child” (their physical, emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions) leads to the best outcomes for each individual and each community of learners. Education of the “whole child” found its beginning with Maria Montessori. Dr. Montessori found no need to externally reward or to coerce children to learn when they were afforded meaningful, useful, and practical educational experiences in an atmosphere of respect.
In a fascinating exploration of the science behind Dr. Montessori’s work, Angeline Lillard (2005) cited hundreds of studies and books that summarize some of the significant principles inherent in Montessori’s work:
- learning and overall well-being are improved when one has freedom to make choices
- people learn better when they are interested in what they are learning
- associating extrinsic rewards (e.g., stickers, candy, grades, privileges, etc.) with a given activity decreases motivation to engage in said activity when the extrinsic reward is removed
- collaboration amongst peers, as defined within a mixed-age grouping, is conducive to learning
- movement and cognition are closely interwoven and movement enhances cognitive function and learning
- learning that takes place in a purposeful context is often deeper and richer than learning in an abstract context
- more optimal developmental outcomes result when teachers do not take an authoritarian position but rather one of an educational “guide”, that is to say, when the learning experience is child-centered as opposed to teacher-centered students develop more independence and ownership of their education
- when a learning experience is child-centered as opposed to teacher-centered, students develop more independence and ownership of their education children respond very well, cognitively and developmentally, to order in their environment.