Montessori (pronounced MON-tuh-SORE-ee) education was founded in 1907 by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first woman in Italy to become a physician.She was a medical doctor, an anthropologist, and an educational researcher. She based her educational methods on scientific observation of children’s learning processes. Guided by her discovery that children teach themselves, Dr. Montessori designed a “prepared environment”. Children could freely choose from many age-appropriate activities designed to teach specific skills. She felt that tactile exploratory learning opportunities would form a strong foundation for later abstract learning (such as math facts, reading, science exploration, etc.). She theorized that teachers should instead become “directors” and actually “quietly follow the child” in order to discern their interests, strengths and weaknesses. By doing so, a teacher would then know how best to reach their students through appropriate individualized learning experiences that would stimulate true growth and learning. She developed a plan of education that would respect and follow the child’s inner guide to development and work in harmony with the child’s own natural tendencies towards independence and learning. The goal is to prepare children for a lifetime of creative thinking and learning.
In 1929 Dr. Montessori established the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) to support the swell of Montessori schools, teacher education programs, and national organizations around the world.
One hundred years after the first casa dei bambini (“children’s house”) opened in Rome, Montessori schools for children of all ages are found around the world. There are at least 4,000 certified Montessori schools in the United States and about 7,000 worldwide. Over 200 public school systems in the U.S. have Montessori programs.
On the Barbara Walters ABC-TV Special “The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2004”, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of the popular Internet search engine Google.com, credited their years as Montessori students as a major factor behind their success. When Barbara Walters asked if the fact that their parents were college professors was a factor behind their success, they said no, that it was their going to a Montessori school where they learned to be self-directed and self-starters. They said that Montessori education allowed them to learn to think for themselves and gave them freedom to pursue their own interests.
There is also quite an interesting collection of people throughout history who have gone to Montessori schools, sent their children to Montessori schools, or supported this method of education in one way or another.
These people are Montessori educated:
- Larry Page, Co-Founder of Google
- Sergey Brin, Co-Founder of Google. Recently, this article· was written which describes how Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, remembers his Montessori experience.
- Peter Drucker, Management Guru
- Prince William and Prince Harry, English royal family
- George Clooney, Academy Award-winning actor
- Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon
- Anne Frank, famous diarist from World War II
- Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Austrian painter and Architect
- Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia
- Will Wright, designer of The Sims
- Katherine Graham, former owner-editor of the Washington Post. “The Montessori method—learning by doing— once again became my stock in trade…” from Personal History by Katharine Graham
- Sean Combs, Sean ‘P.Diddy’ (formerly known as Puffy) Combs, RAP mega-star
- Julia Child, famous chef, star of many TV cooking shows and author of numerous cookbooks Chef
- Helen Hunt, Academy Award-winning actress
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Prize winner for Literature
- Joshua Bell, American violinist, owner of Stradivarius violin
- Lea Salonga, multi-awarded Filipino-American singer and Broadway actress
- Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, former editor, former first lady (John F. Kennedy)
- Berry Brazelton, noted paediatrician and author
- Kami Cotler, actress (youngest child on long-running series The Waltons)
- Melissa and Sarah Gilbert, actors
- Beyonce Knowles, singer and actress
Famous people who chose Montessori schools for their own children:
- Stephen J. Cannell, TV writer-producer-director (The Rockfor Files and many other)
- Patty Duke Austin, actress
- Bill and Hillary Clinton, Former President and New York Senator
- Cher Bono, singer, actres
- John Bradshaw, psychologist and author
- Yul Brynner, former actor
- Marcy Carcy, TV producer
- Michael Douglas, actor
- Shari Lewis, former puppeteer
- Yo Yo Ma, cellist
- Willie Nelson, musician, has a Montessori school on his ranch
- Elizabeth Berridge, actress
- David Blaine, street magician
- Jennifer Granholm and Daniel Mulhern, Governor of Michigan
Others with a Montessori connection:
- Bruno Bettelheim, noted psychologist/author, was married to a Montessori teacher
- Thomas Edison, noted scientist and inventor, helped found a Montessori school
- President Wilson’s daughter trained as a Montessori teacher. There was a Montessori classroom in the basement of the White House during Wilson’s presidency.
- Erik Erikson, anthropologist/author, had a Montessori teaching certificate
- Jean Piaget, noted Swiss psychologist, made his first observations of children in a Montessori school. He was also head of the Swiss Montessori Society for many years.
- Mister Rogers, children’s TV personality, strong supporter of Montessori education
- Alexander Graham Bell (inventor) and his wife Mabel founded the Montessori Education Association in 1913. They also provided financial support directly to Dr. Maria Montessori and helped establish the first Montessori class in Canada and one of the first in the United States.
- Alice Waters, restaurateur and writer, is a former Montessori teacher
Montessori emphasizes learning through all five senses, not just through listening, watching, or reading. Children in Montessori classes learn at their own, individual pace and according to their own choice of activities from hundreds of possibilities. Learning is an exciting process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning. Montessori classes place children in three-year age groups (3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and so on), forming communities. Montessori represents an entirely different approach to education.
They learn the same kinds of things as children in traditional classes, but learning occurs through self-paced, hands-on activities rather than teacher-directed lessons and follow up seat work. Rather than providing direct instruction, Montessori teachers guide children to exciting moments of discovery, and works to create a non-competitive learning community in which children spontaneously share their knowledge with each other.
There is a small but growing body of well-designed research comparing Montessori students to those in traditional schools. These suggest that in academic subjects, Montessori students perform as well as or better than their non-Montessori peers.
In one study, for example, children who had attended Montessori schools at the preschool and elementary levels earned higher scores in high school on standardized math and science tests. Another study found that the essays of 12-year-old Montessori students were more creative and used more complex sentence structures than those produced by the non-Montessori group.
The research also shows Montessori students to have greater social and behavioral skills. They demonstrate a greater sense of fairness and justice, for example, and are more likely to choose positive responses for dealing with social dilemmas.
Dr. Montessori observed that children are more motivated to learn when working on something of their own choosing. A Montessori student may choose their focus of learning on any given day, but the decision is limited by the materials and activities—in each area of the curriculum—that the teacher has prepared and presented to him/her.
The environment is arranged according to subject area, and children are always free to move around the room instead of staying at desks. There is no limit to how long a child can work with a piece of material. At any one time in a day all subjects — math, language, science, history, geography, art, music, etc., will be being studied, at all levels.
Beginning at the elementary level, students typically set learning goals and create personal work plans under their teacher’s guidance.
Although students are free to work at their own pace, they’re not going it alone. The Montessori teacher closely observes each child and provides materials and activities that advance his learning by building on skills and knowledge already gained. This gentle guidance helps him master the challenge at hand—and protects him from moving on before he’s ready, which is what actually causes children to “fall behind.”
The Montessori method is based on scientific observation. A key aspect of a Montessori teacher’s training is learning how to systematically observe when a child reveals an especially strong interest towards a piece of knowledge or skill. Teachers observe for children’s independence, self-reliance, self-discipline, love of work, concentration and focus. They also observe for the mood of the class – an overview of the mood of the whole class as well as the mood of individual children. In addition to keeping observation notes, teachers keep records of lessons presented to individual children and record children’s progress in working toward mastery of skills.
Although most Montessori teachers don’t assign grades, they closely observe each student’s progress and readiness to advance to new lessons. Our school (like most Montessori schools) hold family conferences a few times a year so parents may see their child’s work and hear the teacher’s assessment—and perhaps even their child’s self-assessment.
Grades, like other external rewards, have little lasting effect on a child’s efforts or achievements. The Montessori approach nurtures the motivation that comes from within, kindling the child’s natural desire to learn. There are no grades, or other forms of reward or punishment, subtle or overt. Assessment is by portfolio and the teacher’s observation and record keeping. The test of whether or not the system is working lies in the accomplishment and behavior of the children, their happiness, maturity, kindness, and love of learning and level of work.
A self-motivated learner also learns to be self-sufficient, without needing reinforcement from outside. In the classroom, of course, the teacher is always available to provide students with guidance and support.
Unlike some private schools, which strive for very small classes, Montessori values the lessons of community when the size of the class is somewhat larger.
Montessori classes for children above the infant & toddler level might include 20–30 students whose ages span 3 years. All members of the community benefit from this set-up. Older students are proud to act as role models; younger ones feel supported and gain confidence about the challenges ahead. Classes for infants & toddlers are smaller, with typically 10–15 children.