Roots of Montessori


“Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society."  - M. Montessori

Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870 and was initially educated as Italy's first female physician. Early in her career, Montessori's attention, bolstered by habits of scientific observation, was drawn to questions of child development and education. By January 1907, she was eager to implement her ideas and to explore what she felt were possibilities untried with young children up to that time. As a result, Montessori opened the Casa dei Bambini, or Children's House, in a tenement building in Rome.

Given carefully prepared materials and new opportunities to learn, the children in that first Montessori environment grew in ways that seemed astonishing. They developed remarkable coordination, concentration, persistence, the ability to observe and discriminate, and a sense of order. Their abilities led to confidence in themselves, which in turn allowed them to undertake even more complex tasks. Under the guidance of the "directress", the children chose what they want to work with, and Montessori found that in the security of the Casa, where materials were always available and help toward the next step was always forthcoming, the children were soon choosing to work with materials that corresponded precisely to what they most needed at that moment to learn. Since their work was self-motivated, the children learned eagerly and thoroughly. They were well on the way to developing independence essential both then and now to satisfaction in life- the psychological strength, or confidence, to choose goals for themselves and the physical and intellectual abilities necessary to achieve the goals chosen.

From the beginning, Montessori viewed education as preparation for whole life. She found that children wanted most of all to be helpful contributors in their own society. She deliberately structured the first Casa as a mini community, choosing a multi-aged grouping to model the real world at a not to daunting level. As the children learned to cooperate in their Casa, sometimes helping younger child, sometimes being helped by an older one, sometimes working alone in the shared space, they developed respect for each other and began to understand what was needed for a community to thrive.

By the time Maria Montessori died in 1952, her ideas about education had spread around the world. Although specifics to be learned might differ from culture to culture, at a broad level Montessori’s educational objectives remain universal: to help children become eager, confident, capable, respectful, and contributing members of the community - now global - in which they live