The Montessori method has had a lasting impact on education. Maria Montessori demonstrated through her personality, practise and persistence that education could be an instrument of change to all in society, if it looked at the needs and intellect of the child. Montessori’s development of equipment, principles and philosophy of child development have seen her methods of education grow and influence mainstream education in a myriad of ways too.
Schools in Italy at the time Maria Montessori was educated had a narrow curriculum and a vastly different ethos to those which Montessori herself would later develop. A child’s education varied depending on location and gender. In rural areas it was common for schooling not to go past the third grade level. In larger towns where schooling did exceed the third grade boys and girls were required to be separated. There were limited resources and subsequently the rote learning method was a common tool used to educate young minds (Kramer, 1988)
To create reasoning citizens capable of widespread societal change Montessori observed the need for radical transformation to the education system that she had experienced. Montessori was impacted by a variety of theorists, too wide to mention in an essay of this size. Two of note were Montessori’s teacher Sergi and educationalist Pestalozzi. Sergi was Montessori’s anthropology professor. One of Sergi’s influences was his conjecture that through the study of children a pedagogy could be developed that helped prevent ‘abnormality’ (Kramer, 1988). Pestalozzi, a Swiss reformer of the mid-1750s had developed schooling that valued teaching of the senses, physical activation, and grouping children of similar developmental levels together (Kramer,1988). Montessori was also influenced by her time working in pediatrics in a psychiatric clinic in Rome after her graduation. At the clinic Montessori observed children in drab rooms with little to explore and formulated her ideas around prepared environments that allowed for concentrated work (Kramer,1988).
In the early 1900s Montessori had opportunity to develop her work from the asylum. She applied her methods in the slums of a new district in Rome, San Lorenzo. Here she was given a room with fifty small children aged between two and seven to occupy. She expanded on her knowledge developed in her psychiatric observations. Initially due to funding limitations Montessori had no equipment or materials and made do with whatever she could find to awaken the children’s senses (Kramer, 1988). Montessori began introducing ideas of her contemporaries Itard and Seguin, sometimes adapting them upon use. Her methods for teaching reading and writing, for example, are based Itard and Seguin (Montessori, 1988). Another idea implemented by Montessori was the ‘three period lesson’. In the first aspect or period of the lesson the object is named, in the second period the child is asked to give to the teacher the object that has been outlined in period one. In the third period the teacher asks ‘What is this?’ pointing at one of the objects from period one (Montessori, 1988).
Through observation of her learning materials and the prepared environment of the class Montessori’s aim was to see how the children reacted ‘… I asked her [the other teacher] not to interfere with them in any way as I would not be able to observe them (Montessori, 2004)’. Montessori observed positive changes to the children and began furthering her method. (Montessori, 2004) Her new ideas included specifically designed materials, a broad curriculum, multi age classes, child sized furniture and inclusion of life skills such as gardening, care of animals, and communal preparation of food (Montessori, 2004). The children in her classes were free to move and choose activities they had been presented resulting in an environment where children were engaged in their individual activities and needed little continuous expression of authority including the enchantment of rewards (Montessori, 1988). Montessori’s work in San Lorenzo was a valuable model that she and others used to develop and refine her method to enable the child to finish their formation. (Kramer, 1988; Lilard, 2003)
Montessori continued to further her educational philosophy developing ideas around education for children up to the age of eighteen. She wrote about these ideas in books such as The Montessori Method and Dr Maria Montessori’s Own Handbook. Through her books, public speaking, classes and travel the Montessori method spread to diverse environments including Australia, England, The United States, Korea and China (Kramer, 1988). Additionally many of Montessori’s ideas have left direct and indirect impacts on Mainstream education too.
One of Montessori’s lasting legacies is in humanistic education. Sadly though many of her observations and findings are not widely attributed to her. Lillard states this is perhaps because her documentation was not easy to follow and that she did not have a wide scale interest in theory such as Piaget or Vygostky (Lillard, 2005). Nonetheless echoes of Montessori’s belief can be heard in many contemporary educationalists. For example Carl Rogers has two major propositions similar to Montessori’s beliefs. Firstly, human behavior is guided by each persons need to further the construction of their own identity, and secondly that all humans need to be viewed positively (Mcinerney, 1998). The implications for the classroom teacher are threefold. The teacher is to be authentic, accepting of all learners and have an empathetic understanding of the individual needs of the student (Mcinerney, 1998). At different times, and to different levels of success, humanistic education has proposed many concepts similar to those of Montessori. These concepts include: child-centered programming, individual instruction, encouraging the child to choose work and complete it independently, assessing through observation and negotiating success criteria (Mcinerney, 1998).
The New Zealand Curriculum of 2007 (NZC) for mainstream primary and secondary schooling has implicitly emphasized many of the above humanistic constructivist and quintessential aspects of Montessori education through the ‘Key Competencies’. The New Zealand Ministry of Education states that key competences are employed by people
‘… to live, learn, work, and contribute as active members of their communities’. More complex than skills, the competencies draw also on knowledge, attitudes, and values in ways that lead to action. They are not separate or stand-alone. They are the key to learning in every learning area’ (Ministry of Education, 2007). They key competencies are Managing Self, Thinking, Using Language Symbols and Text, Relating to Others, and Participating and Contributing. An example of the managing self competency can be seen from a case study from Kelburn Normal School. As part of a unit on the Commonwealth Games, the teacher and students developed a Managing Self criteria to reflect on their learning, attitudes and behaviors. The teachers included questions such as, “Did your project go as you planned?” and “Did you finish your project? (Ministry of Education, 2007) ”
Montessori’s belief in child development from birth and the need for concrete objects to awaken the senses can now be seen through much of mainstream educational philosophy and classroom practise. McNaughton and Williams give credit to Montessori for her tactile objects such as the three dimensional shapes and letters. They state these were the forerunners to concrete equipment used in early childhood such as inset puzzle boards (McNaughton and Williams, 2009).
In addition Montessori's views on assessment can also be seen in todays modern classrooms. The teacher observes and assesses the child's needs and interests and then prepares their program and presents materials accordingly.
Montessori’s aim to develop a transforming pedagogy has had a lasting impact on education. Her development of a methodology that followed the child and allowed the child to express themselves impacted the methods of the educational theorists that have followed her. Montessori has had a lasting impact on mainstream education and as we enter the 21st century many of her hopes for education can be glimpsed in National curriculums. Nonetheless, we still have someway to go in forming a true holistic education for every child in every schooling environment.
Kramer, R. (1988). Maria Montessori a Biography. Massachusetts: Perseus Books.
Lilard, P. & Jensen, L. (2003). Montessori from the start: the child at home from birth to three New York: Schocken.
Lillard, A. (2005). Montessori The science behind the Genius. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
McInerney, D. & McInerney, V. (1998). Educational Psychology 2nd edition. Sydney: Prentice Hall.
McNaughton, G. & Williams, G (2009). Techniques for teaching young children 3rd edition. NSW, Australia: Pearson.
Ministry of Education (2007). The New Zealand Curricuulum. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education.
Ministry of Education (2007, September 20). Developing progressions for the key competencies at Kelburn Normal School Retrieved from http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/Curriculum-stories/Case-studies/Key-competencies/School-case-studies/Developing-progressions-for-the-key-competencies-at-Kelburn-Normal-School
Montessori, M. (1988). The Montessori Method. New York: Rowan and Littlefield.
Montessori, M. (2004). The Secret of Childhood. Hyderabad, India: Orient Longman