Maria Montessori was the first female Italian physician, educator, and innovator, acclaimed for her educational method that builds on the way children learn naturally. Using scientific observation and experience gained from her work with young children, Maria designed learning materials and a classroom environment that fostered the children's natural desire to learn and provided freedom for them to choose their own materials.
She opened the first Montessori school—the Casa Dei Bambini, or Children's House—in Rome in 1907. By 1909 Maria gave her first training course in her new approach to around 100 students. Her notes from this period provided the material for her first book published that same year in Italy, appearing in translation in the United States in 1912 as The Montessori Method, and later translated into 20 languages.
A period of great expansion in the Montessori approach now followed. Montessori societies, training programs, and schools sprang to life worldwide, and a period of travel with public speaking and lecturing occupied Maria, much of it in America, and the UK, and throughout Europe.
In 1947 she addressed UNESCO on the theme 'Education and Peace.' Maria was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in three consecutive years: 1949, 1950, and 1951. Her last public engagement was the 9th International Montessori Congress in London in 1951. Maria Montessori passed away at age 81 in1952, bequeathing the legacy of her work to her son.
The Absorbent Mind
As a medical doctor, Maria Montessori observed children from a scientific perspective. Montessori uses the term "absorbent mind" to describe how much of a child's learning is subconscious and without effort.
During a sensitive period, a child will have a very strong desire or ability to acquire a certain skill or type of knowledge. The teacher's role is to observe and guide children towards activities based on their interests and readiness.
The Prepared Environment
Dr. Montessori created her curriculum in response to the interests of the child. The classroom design and materials support both the absorbent mind and the sensitive periods. She referred to this specially-designed classroom as the "prepared environment." This environment meets the needs of the young child for movement, independence, order, and language. The environment is prepared in five major areas: practical life, sensorial, language, math, and cultural subjects. One of the purposes of the prepared environment is for children to learn from their experiences without time restrictions, fostering the ability to concentrate.
Mixed-age groups free children to enjoy their accomplishments rather than comparing themselves to others. Older children provide leadership and guidance and benefit from the satisfaction of helping others. Younger children are encouraged by attention and help from older children. Children quickly learn to respect others and at the same time develop respect for their own individuality.
Ground rules lay the foundation for the young child to balance the needs of his/herself and others' needs. Having clear and consistent expectations fosters independence, order, concentration, and coordination in a safe and predictable environment
These procedures include:
Circle time is a teacher-directed activity that takes place at the beginning of the day. This activity encourages social, emotional, physical, and academic growth by interacting in a group setting. The teacher introduces age-appropriate activities related to academic subjects, songs, calendars, grace and courtesy lessons, and more during circle. This time brings children together and allows them to experience a sense of community.