The Early Years
Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was the first female Physician in Italy. After becoming a physician she worked with disabled children. These children were presumed “unteachable” and lived in mental asylums with adults diagnosed with psychiatric disorders. Montessori however, noticed that these children did not have a opportunities to explore their surroundings and had little social or academic stimulation. She began to teach them to complete practical tasks and in time she noticed great gains socially and academically. In actuality these children were highly capable, some passed the same academic tests that were administered in regular schools.
Her Method Works
Montessori was later given charge of a large group of young children in an urban housing community. She employed the same methods that she had used with the so called “disabled” children as the mental hospital and achieved the same results. The mischievous, aggressive children were soon confident, industrious children.
Changing Early Education
How did she achieve this success? Montessori made several changes to how young children are viewed and treated. Simple changes such as the size of the classroom furniture helped the children to focus on completing their work. Historically small children sat at bulky desks, designed for school age children. However, her classrooms were suited with custom furniture built for the small children. Montessori also created puzzles, sensory material and manipulatives for her students. Children were given tasks such as sweeping, polishing, folding, helping to prepare meals and the responsibility of personal hygiene. She recognized that young children, when given the proper tools are incredibly capable humans.
As the success of her methods began to become apparent, her style of teaching was replicated in “early education” school settings. Montessori believed that if children were taught in a peaceful, respectful environment they could thrive . Throughout her lifetime she was an advocate for early childhood education and peace. She travelled the world conducting seminars and trainings. Over a century has passed since she developed her method of teaching; it has since become an internationally accepted standard for preschool classrooms and beyond.