Dr. Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952), was an Italian physician, educator, philosopher, and humanitarian. She was the originator of the Montessori Method of Education.
Dr. Montessori was the first woman to become a doctor of medicine in Italy. While working with physically and emotionally challenged children in a Rome clinic, Dr. Montessori observed the positive impact on the learning process when the children worked with specially designed equipment. It was this observation that inspired her to design special learning materials that revolutionized the teaching of basic skills for all students. In 1907, she directed her first school “Casa Dei Bambini.” World famous educators visited her school in Italy to observe the impact on the learning process as the children used her carefully designed materials. The visitors also discovered the new method of education was characterized by emphasizing self-directed activity on the part of the child.
Montessori stressed the importance of adapting the child’s learning environment to his or her development level. It was clear that the role of physical activity was extremely important in helping the children to grasp abstract concepts and in learning practical skills.
Dr. Montessori then felt the need to educate adults caring for children and she traveled to Asia, Europe and America to train teachers in the use of her method and her equipment. Her educational method is in use today in public as well as private schools throughout the world.
The Montessori / Pre-school Program
The Montessori preschool classroom is a “living room” for children. Children choose their work from among the self-correcting materials displayed on open shelves, and they work in specific work areas. Over a period of time, the children develop into a “normalized community,” working with high concentration and few interruptions. Normalization is the process whereby a child moves from being undisciplined to self-disciplined, from disordered to ordered, from distracted to focused, through work in the environment. The process occurs through repeated work with materials that captivate the child’s attention. For some children this inner change may take place quite suddenly, leading to deep concentration. In the Montessori preschool, academic competency is a means to an end, and the manipulative are viewed as “materials for development.”
In the Montessori preschool, five distinct areas constitute the prepared environment:
Practical life enhances the development of task organization and cognitive order through care of self, care of the environment, exercises of grace and courtesy, and coordination of physical movement.
The sensorial area enables the child to order, classify, and describe sensory impressions in relation to length, width, temperature, mass, color, pitch, etc.
Mathematics makes use of manipulative materials to enable the child to internalize concepts of number, symbol, sequence, operations, and memorization of basic facts.
Language arts includes oral language development, written expression, reading, the study of grammar, creative dramatics, and children’s literature. Basic skills in writing and reading are developed through the use of sandpaper letters, alphabet cut-outs, and various presentations allowing children to link sounds and letter symbols effortlessly and to express their thoughts through writing.
Cultural activities expose the child to basics in geography, history, and life sciences. Music, art, and movement education are part of the integrated cultural curriculum.
The preschool environment unifies the psycho-social, physical, and academic functioning of the child. Its important task is to provide students with an early and general foundation that includes a positive attitude toward school, inner security and a sense of order, pride in the physical environment, abiding curiosity, a habit of concentration, habits of initiative and persistence, the ability to make decisions, self-discipline, and a sense of responsibility to other members of the class, school, and community. This foundation will enable them to acquire more specialized knowledge and skills throughout their school career.
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