What is Montessori?



Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870. As a teen, she faced much negativity in her quest to be an engineer because of her gender and so decided to focus her attention on medicine. Originally turned down by the board of education for being female, she was eventually accepted into university and graduated as Italy’s first female doctor in 1896.


Following on from her medical interest in disadvantaged children Montessori studied the work of two French doctors, Jean Itard and Edouard Seguin who concentrated much of their research on the education of poor and disabled infants. She shared their believe that medicine wasn’t the answer and believed strongly that education was key to helping these children lead the most independent and fulfilling lives possible.  


“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”


In 1906 Montessori was asked to take charge of a room of children within a housing project in the slum area of San Lorenzo. She filled it with child-sized chairs, tables and the materials she had previously used with mentally ill children. Montessori had an assistant within her room who she taught to demonstrate the material to the children. It was within this room that Montessori developed her scientific based philosophy of education and where she witnessed the children concentrating like never before on simple activities such as grading cylinder blocks. She also noticed the children’s acute sense of order, how they enjoyed taking ownership of their own chores and tasks which led the way for the Montessori notion of freedom of choice and freedom to be for them to be their own educational guide.


Montessori always advocated respect for even the youngest child in her care.


Maria Montessori’s famous "Casa dei Bambini” opened in January 1907, a children’s house where the classroom was all accessible to the students and the chores and running of the classroom was fundamentally completed by them too. The pride and order they displayed within this house was unique and educators from all around the world would travel to witness this apparent magical environment.


Today, we see Montessori schools modelled on the ideal of the Casa dei Bambini, access to all, real cutlery, glasses and plates. Children cleaning their own plates after lunch, independently putting shoes and coats on as well as deciding what they would like to learn and from which shelf. 


The Montessori method is a form of education that is based on self-direction, collaboration between teacher and pupils and a mixed age group allowing the children to learn from those younger and older than themselves. In our classroom, children make choices in their learning and the teachers role is to guide, demonstrate but ultimately observe and take notes about the child’s development.


Activities are auto-didactic, meaning they are self-teaching. Children see their errors as they go along and can correct themselves, meaning they learn a great deal about initiative and build a strong sense of independence.


Every piece of material in a Montessori classroom has a meaning; it will support at least one aspect of the child’s development.


The areas that we cover are Practical Life - giving children a possibility to try out real life skills. Activities such as pouring, transferring, pegging clothes and sorting objects are all regular features on a Practical Life shelf.


The sensorial shelf is just that, one that allows a child to develop each of their natural senses. Activities such as the Pink tower and colour boxes give a natural introduction to size, grading and dimension and give children the chance to experience basic maths concepts. Whilst scent jars and sound cylinders open a child’s mind to potential cultural and environmental notions.


Maths and Literacy have some beautiful, unique materials such as the spindle box - comparing symbols and amounts and the wonderfully popular sandpaper letters. By tracing the letters with their finger, a child builds a mental model of symbols. This is really important for when writing activities are introduced as there will already be an unconscious awareness of our alphabet.


Cultural and Understanding of the World are wonderfully creative areas and within a Montessori setting this is always a hugely popular shelf. We start with the basics, the land and the water and what happens within both before moving onto other more complex subjects such as botany, history and geography.


Art and creativity - naturally within a pre-school setting there is a huge emphasis on creative work. Our children have open access to an elaborate collection of art materials meaning they can express themselves however they choose.

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© Camilla Bruce