What is Montessori?

Montessori is a unique approach to learning named after the remarkable Italian Dr. Maria Montessori who lived from 1870 to 1952.

Born in Chiaravalle, Italy, Maria Montessori was the first female physician in Italy, becoming a doctor of medicine in 1896. Thus began the extraordinary career of a woman whose core belief that "children teach themselves" led her lifelong pursuit for educational reform.

Clinical observations led Montessori to analyze the learning processes of children, concluding that they "build" themselves from what they find in their environment.

Shortly after these initial observations, she shifted gears from medicine to psychology and philosophy, returned to school in 1901, and finished in 1904 to become a professor of anthropology at the University of Rome. After only two years in her role, however, Montessori's desire to work with children drove her to start the "Children's House" in the San Lorenzo district of Rome. There she observed the learning habits of 60 children, and developed what ultimately became the Montessori Method based on her scientific observations of these children's ability to absorb knowledge from their surroundings. Each exercise, each piece of equipment and material, was developed based on what she saw children do naturally, without the assistance of adults.

As learning materials were designed, they were combined with a specially prepared environment and teachers trained in what is now known as the Montessori Method. The method recognizes that children require an attractive and well-organized environment in which to learn, as well as an allowance for independence and spontaneity. Of equal importance is a curriculum of tasks and activities within the environment that fulfill the child's inner needs for development, self-awareness, enthusiasm, and concentration.

Modern research has validated what Maria Montessori observed a century ago; the first few years of a child's life are crucial to the development of personality and intellect. Data suggests that 50 percent of intellectual development takes place between conception and the age of four, 30 percent from ages four to eight, and 20 percent between the ages of eight and seventeen.

Montessori focused on a young child's unique ability to absorb information from their environment, much as they are able to learn and comprehend language without formal teaching. She identified "sensitive periods" that children experience, during which they are particularly drawn to certain aspects of their environment. For example, children are sensitive to learning the names of objects at age two, so their environment should contain a wide variety of objects and pictures of objects. At age six, children are able to think in more abstract terms, and are sensitive to anything which piques their imagination and motivates them to learn.

A Montessori education often results in the early development of reading, writing, and arithmetic skills, although that is not the primary purpose of the method. Of much greater significance is the full development of the thought process, the moral self, social skills, and a genuine love for learning.

The Montessori environment seeks to bring forth each child's creative genius. This can only take place in an environment where they are free to explore and develop at their own pace. The freedom to learn in an environment designed specifically to nurture the child in all aspects of his development is the gift of Montessori education.

Dr. Maria Montessori