“Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives;
education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual,
and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment.
The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural
activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from
obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being
done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding
of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events,
but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society.
- Maria Montessori, Education for a New World
"To change a generation or a nation, we must look to the child, who is omnipotent.” ~ Maria Montessori
Born in Italy in 1870, Maria Montessori grew up to become Italy's first woman doctor.
While working at a psychiatric clinic in Rome she first became interested in the
treatment of children and, at age 28 accepted a position as the director of a school
for "unhappy little ones". (Dr. Montessori referred to them as 'mentally disabled
During the next two years, Dr. Montessori spent countless hours observing and working
with these children. Under her guidance, children who had been considered uneducable
before she began testing her theories, passed a standardized test common among “normal”
children. She was proclaimed a Miracle Worker by the educational establishment.
Heartened by the results she'd achieved with special needs children, she returned
to school to study anthropology and psychology in the hopes that she could find a
way to apply the educational techniques she'd discovered to 'normal' children as
In 1907 at the age of 35, she was given a chance to try out her theories when she
was invited to take over the education of fifty “filthy and ragged children” from
the San Lorenzo slums of Rome. The techniques Dr. Montessori's continued to refine
as she studied and worked with these children were so successful that her Casa dei
Bambini began to receive international attention. Visitors came from all over the
world to see these children--and their remarkable progress--for themselves.
In 1913, Maria Montessori's innovative and revolutionary educational philosophy had
been recognized and applauded by such intellectual lights of the time as Alexander
Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and Sigmund Freud.
Her fame would spread further at the 1918 Panama-Pacific International Exposition
in San Francisco. A special classroom was built at the exhibition with one glass
wall behind which spectators could sit and watch as Dr. Montessori worked with 20
children, none of whom were familiar with the "Montessori environment" as it was
already coming to be called. The 4-month long demonstration project did much to popularize
Dr. Montessori's teaching techniques on an international level. With each book she
released and each speech she delivered, her popularity grew among parents and enlightened
Since the early 20's, interest in the Montessori method has grown steadily throughout
the world. During the past 20 years these methods have had a remarkable resurgence
in the United States.
The following outlines the highlights of Montessori's educational approach that make
No Passive Listeners
Rather than the outer-directed learning approach where children sit passively in
the classroom receiving verbal information from the teacher, in a Montessori environment,
the child is the leader. It is the teachers job not to lead and lecture, but to observe
and follow, sensing when the child is ready to try something new and being ready
to present it at as close to the perfect time as possible.
No Gold Stars
Dr. Montessori discovered early on that rewards and punishments were not necessary
for children to learn--and to learn happily. She found, if a child was allowed to
pursue her own interests--whether it be washing a table, feeding the cat or learning
the alphabet, the work itself--and the child's knowledge that she had the ability
to master it--were far and away enough of a reinforcement.
Learning from Other Children
In the Montessori classroom children are grouped in mixed ages and abilities--age
0 to 3, 3-6, 6-12 etc. There is a great deal of interaction between children of differing
ages, lots of socializing--and a tremendous amount of older children teaching younger
ones. (Preschool Power! producer, Carey Sutton, got the idea for using young children
as on-camera demonstrator in the video series after observing her daughter's Montessori
classroom for several years and marveling at scenes like a 4 year olds cleaning up
after snack-time while a 3 watched solemnly--and learned just how to do it right
Maria Montessori believed that character education--teaching children to take care
of themselves, each other and the world around them was just as important as pre-academic
skills such as phonetics and number recognition. Children are taught basic dressing
skills as well as hygiene. And they're also made responsible for keeping the classroom
orderly and clean. "Practical Life' skills like mopping up a spill, feeding the rabbit
or tying ones own shoes figure large the Montessori classroom. Once again, the Montessori
method provided a marvelous inspiration in the Preschool Power! videos with these