Maria Montessori (August 31, 1870 â€“Â May 6, 1952) was an Italian physician and educator, a noted humanitarian and devout Catholic best known for the philosophy of education which bears her name. Her educational method is in use today in public and private schools throughout the world.
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Dr. Maria Montessori believed that no human being is educated by another person. He must do it himself or it will never be done. A truly educated individual continues learning long after the hours and years he spends in classroom because he is motivated from within by natural curiosity and love for knowledge. Dr. Montessori felt therefore, that the gaol of early childhood education should not be to fill the child with facts from a pre-selected course of studies, but rather to cultivate his own natural desire to learn.
In the Montessori classroom this objective is approached in two ways. First, by allowing each child to experience the excitement of leaning by his own choice rather than by being forced and Second, by helping him to perfect all his natural tools for learning so that his ability will be maximum in future learning situations. The Montessori materials have this dual long-range purpose in addition to their immediate purpose of giving specific information to the child.
The use of the materials is based on the childâ€™s unique aptitude for learning which Dr. Montessori identified as the absorbent mind. In her writings she frequently compared the young mind to a sponge. It literally absorbs information from the environment. The process is particularly evident in the way two year-old learns his/her native language without formal instruction and without the conscious, tedious effort which an adult must make to master a foreign tongue. Acquiring information in this way is a natural and delightful activity for the young child who employs all his/her senses to investigate all his/her interesting surroundings.
Since the child retains this ability to learn by absorbing until he/she is almost seven years old. Dr. Montessori reasoned that childâ€™s experiences could be enriched by a class room where he/she could handle the materials which would demonstrate basic educational information to him/her. Over sixty years of experience have proved her theory that the young child can learn to read, write and to calculate in the same natural way that he/she learns to talk and walk. In the Montessori classroom the equipment invites him/her to do this at his/her own periods of interest and readiness.
Dr. Montessori always emphasized that the hand is chief teacher of the child. In order to learn there must be concentration and the beat way a child can concentrate is by fixing his/her attention on some task he/she is performing with his/her hands. All the equipment in a Montessori classroom allows the child to reinforce his/her causal impressions by inviting him/her to use his/her hands for learning.
Another observation of Dr. Montessori which has been reinforced by modern research is the importance of sensitive periods for early learning. These are periods for intensive fascination for learning a particular characteristic or skill, such as going up or down steps, putting things in order, counting or reading. It is easier for the child to learn a particular skill during the corresponding sensitive period than any other time in his life. The Montessori classroom takes advantage of this fact by allowing the child freedom to select individual activities which correspond to his/her own periods of interest.