Maria Montessori (August 31, 1870 – May 6, 1952) – the Italian doctor, teacher, scientist, philosopher, humanist, Catholic.
One of the signs of international recognition of Maria Montessori was the well-known decision of UNESCO (1988), relating to four teachers, determined the method of pedagogical thinking in the twentieth century: the American John Dewey, the German Georg Kerschensteiner, Italian Maria Montessori and Soviet Anton Makarenko.
Born in Chiaravalle (Italy), Montessori was the first woman in the history of Italy, completing the course of medicine and one of the first carriers of the degree of Doctor of Science.
Italian doctor and educator, Maria Montessori, became famous all over the world due to the unique method of early child development. In 1907, she founded the school, where little children with behavioral and developmental deviations were taught. Thanks to the knowledge, the basis of which was the principle of self-development, mentally weak children began to actively overtake and even surpass the “normal” peers. Being impressed by this fact, Maria Montessori said: “what should one do to a normal child in order to make him weaker than my poor ones?”
The principles of Mari Montessori’s method
The ground of Montessori’s methodic is freedom. Teaching in a form of playing game and self-independent exercising are the main principles. Parents can help without interrupting. Every child needs individual approach. Montessori’s methodic of early development main principle is “help me do it on my own”.
Nowadays in most big cities there are kindergartens and schools using Montessori’s method. According to Montessori, every child develops individually in a specially prepared environment. The instruction book which includes far from one dozen of pages is the equipment of every group. The teacher’s aim is to help the child organizing his activity so that he will do his maximum in personal creative development. Besides it is possible to create such Montessori-environment at home. A child will be able to show his individual skills in such environment. This is its significant feature.
With the help of Montessori’s methodic a child develops his intellect (logical and creative), mind, memory, imagination, motility and etc.
Montessori’s methodic pays much attention to collective games and exercises which help children to gain communication skills and household participation. This is a fundamental thing in becoming independent.
The teaching takes place with the help of didactical Montessori’s materials. It looks like the mixture of manuals and developing games. They are made of natural materials and their structure is unchangeable for more than 100 years by now.
The peculiarity of the Montessori’s classroom is that children are not sitting at the desks and the educator is not standing in front of the children. Everyone is busy doing his own work in Montessori’s classroom. The classroom itself consists of different zones:
- Real life zone, where the babies learn to dress independently. They also get the skill of washing, cleaning, mixing, cutting and drawing. The purpose of this zone is to train concentration and attention and to develop small and large motor skills;
- Motility development zone: children investigate the environment (distinguish objects’ size, color, heights, length). The purpose of this room is to train children to tell the objects of various size, shapes and color from one another. Children learn how to track the object from left to right, which later helps in reading;
- Lingual, geographical, mathematical and natural science zones are for the intellectual development of the child;
- Physical exercises zone is for the active games in a circle drawn on the floor or on the carpet. The exercises are aimed to develop balance, movement coordination, and mind.
A child may choose the certain zone and a particular Montessori’s material he wants to work with. He can work alone and together with the other children. The child makes this choice independently. The child works with his own pace as there is no competition in Montessori’s method of early childhood development. And the educator helps the child to organize his activity and to unlock his potential. The baby isn’t sitting at the desk but spending time in individual exercises with other children. Only in a case when it is absolutely necessary the teacher comes up to the child and helps him. That is why Montessori’s method of early development excludes boredom in the classroom.
The key characteristics of the Montessori’s method:
- groups include children of different age. Most of them are children from 3 to 6 years old;
- The duration of the working session is usually three hours;
- The model is called “learning through exploring” when children do this or that exercise on their own without listening to the explanation of the teacher;
- Children are free in such classroom. They can move from one place to another freely;
- The teacher is always prepared according to Montessori’s technics.
Freedom and spontaneous activity of child
Till the birth main aim of the child is to be free and independent. Montessori describes this process as a fundamental principle of human life. Same as the baby’s body develops, giving the child freedom of action, the soul of the child is hungry for knowledge and independence.
An adult may serve as an ally for a child and create an environment, which satisfies his needs and desires of exploration. Adult’s self-understanding in Montessori’s methodic of early childhood development is the role of the helper, who guides the child to independence through the “help me do it by myself” principle. The process of learning and acknowledging occurs in the child’s mind, a child is a teacher for himself. Adults must learn how to lead the child to knowledge in order to opt out in the right moment. And then adults should turn into observers, watching the cognition process of the child. As far as every child faces phases of sensitivity individually, the curriculum at child’s home or at school must be individually oriented. The teacher masters a cognition technic of sensitivity phases and is able to draw the child to the activity which would activate the interests of the latter. However, a child must be free to choose the materials and the way of working with them.
In order to describe child’s work several concepts were used by Montessori, including the absorbent mind, sensitive periods, normalization.
The psychological state of children from 3 to 6 years old was called “normalization”. Normalization starts with the concentration of the child on some activity, which is aimed to develop the child’s abilities. The expected result is a continuous and joyful ability to work, will to help others and ability to empathize.
The preparatory environment is an essential element of Montessori’s pedagogy. Without the environment, the method can’t function as a system. The preparatory environment gives the child a possibility to escape gradually from the adult’s custody and eventually become independent. So home or school equipment should correspond to growth, proportions and age of a child.
Children should have the opportunity to rearrange tables and chairs. They should be given an opportunity to choose the place for learning. The workplace rearranging is a part of motor skills development. Children must learn how to move objects quietly in order not to disturb others. In kindergartens equipped with Montessori materials there is an aesthetical and elegant environment where fragile porcelain is used, where children learn to be confident in handling fragile items, and realize their value.
The layout of the Montessori classroom must meet certain criteria. The main goal is to provide conditions for concentrated work and the independent development of children. The room should be spacious, similar to studio-plan. The room should be filled with light and air, adequate lighting, panoramic windows are welcomed as it gives access to natural light. Interior colors should be calm, neutral, should not distract the children and the colors mustn’t excite them. There must be a full excess to water in a Montessori classroom. Washstands should be reachable for a child; toilets should consider the child’s height or be equipped with trays. The Montessori classrooms should be full of plants at the accessible height so that the child could take care of them.
The materials should be available at eye level of a child. Like a call to action. Each kind of material is available only in one copy. This should teach the child social behavior towards the other children, consider the needs of the others. Children take care of their environment themselves. In doing so, they gain skills of independence.
Adult’s role in Montessori’s pedagogy
There’s an important pedagogical requirement in regards to the role of the teacher. It is not a requirement to do certain things, but not to do certain things, namely, not to interfere with a process of self-development of the child. Summing up, this requirement is originated out of the thesis that parents are not the creators of a child. As we have already mentioned, a child himself is a foreman of his development; while parents are the labor of the construction and have to settle for that role. The whole understanding of education follows from this principle.
Using this methodic of early childhood development, Montessori formulates a clear “no” to any kind of active individuals who wish to adjust people to the own image and likeness, just like the modern behaviorism, which reduces human personality to cybernetic concepts. Montessori expects an adult to suppress the “internal refocus”: an adult in dealing with a child should only think about the child and his future.
The inquisitive mind
The absorbent mind (in terms of Montessori pedagogy) – is an unconscious ability of children to absorb their immediate surroundings: culture, language, habits, customs, religious attitudes. This phenomenon was discovered in the course of numerous observations; Maria Montessori describes the special type of psyche and mentality that is inherent to a child.
Adults acquire knowledge by means of conscious training while the child unconsciously absorbs knowledge together with the impressions he gets out of the environment. Such type of perception is a feature of the child up to a certain age, until six years, according to Montessori. Through the concept of the absorbing mind, Montessori’s method shows the importance of the first years of life in a person’s development.
The task of the adult is to create the right environment, in interaction with which a child will be able to develop effectively and be trained, using possibilities of the absorbing mind which a child owns.
In her book “Absorbent mind” Maria Montessori considered in detail the question concerning mental capacities of a child. The capacities that allow the child to develop and improve the own skills and characteristics within several years without any help of the traditional education. The book gives practical sense to the idea of “learning from the cradle”.
Stages of child development
According to Maria Montessori, the first stage of children’s development lasts from birth to six years. During this period, the child goes through significant psychological and physical changes. In this period, a child is a researcher who develops his personality and gaining independence.
The second stage of development lasts from 6 to 12 years. During this period, Montessori observed physical and psychological changes in children and created a special environment in the classroom. There are certain materials and lessons in that classroom that correspond the changes.
The third stage of development lasts from 12 to 18 years, including adolescence. Montessori links the third level to puberty, and to some psychological changes. She notes psychological instability and difficulties in concentration. There is also creative tendencies and development of the sense of justice and self-respect in this age. Montessori used the term “valorization” to describe aspiration of teenagers to receiving an external assessment. Montessori considered that the only aim of this period is the search of the place in society.
The fourth level of development lasts from 18 to 24 years. Montessori wrote a little about this period and didn’t develop a special educational program for this age.
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