Maria Montessori: Theory & Contributions to Education

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  • 0:01 Meet Dr. Maria Montessori
  • 1:14 Becoming an…
  • 2:37 The Montessori Method
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Jordan

Adam is a special educator with a Ph.D. in Education

Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori's unique approach to education has been influencing the field since the early 1900s. In this lesson, we will take a look at some of her innovative methods as well as evaluate her impact on modern education.

Meet Dr. Maria Montessori

Have you ever watched a young child at play? Did you notice the imagination, creativity, and intensity? If you have, you've probably had some of the same thoughts that Dr. Maria Montessori did when she developed her renowned method of schooling. Dr. Montessori is famous for developing a system of education that focuses on the natural curiosity and interests of a child. Let's take a look at how physician Dr. Montessori became an innovative educator.

Maria Montessori was born in Chiaravalle, Italy, on August 31, 1870. She was an intelligent child, and her family was one that valued education. Because of this, Maria was offered many educational opportunities that were unique to a woman growing up in late 19th century Italy. She was able to explore her interests in regards to a career.

Eventually, Maria decided to pursue a career in the medical field and become a physician. In fact, she didn't just become a physician; she became the first female physician in Italy. While you may be wondering how a pioneer physician ended up an innovative educator, it is actually the path she followed as a doctor that influenced her thoughts, her vision, and her future.

Becoming an Educational Reformer

Montessori's work as a physician led her to focus on psychiatry and pediatrics. She was able to pursue both areas as a researcher with the University of Rome. This allowed her to work with and observe many disadvantaged children, particularly children of lower socioeconomic status and children with disabilities in a variety of settings. It was in this work that Montessori made the observations that would define her influence. Montessori began to observe that children of all walks of life have an innate curiosity, and with this curiosity comes an intelligent approach to going about the process of learning.

In 1900, she became the co-director for the Orthophrenic School, a school designed to train teachers to work with children with mental disabilities. Because of her experiences here, along with her continued education, Montessori made the decision to open up her own school. In 1907, Montessori opened the Casa dei Bambini, a school for disadvantaged children. At Casa dei Bambini, Montessori was able to implement a style of education that she felt was more effective and more focused on the natural patterns of child development. Her students came from other institutions and were often considered to be 'uneducable' students. 'Uneducable,' however, wasn't a word in Montessori's vocabulary.

The Montessori Method

While Montessori's life itself was certainly influential, it is her pedagogical method that is the meat of this video lesson. First, we should be clear that true mastery of Montessori's method cannot be obtained by watching a short video. It is a lengthy process that requires in-depth study and practice. However, we can outline the 'nuts and bolts' of Montessori's approach that are essential to understanding her impact on education.

First, we need to establish that the most important aspect of Montessori's approach is that it is child-centered. A child-centered approach is one that places the child as the central focus of the classroom. While that may seem abstract, it's not. It simply means that instead of the teacher making all the decisions, the child gets some autonomy in what he or she learns and how he or she goes about learning it. Several parallels can be drawn to the work of John Dewey.

Second, we need to make it clear that the classroom environment is an absolutely vital part of Montessori's approach. Montessori developed many of her ideas by watching children play. The classroom, then, is set up to encourage productive play. A Montessori classroom is filled with puzzles, art supplies, and games. It allows children the opportunity to experience the classroom in a way that is more natural to their normal ways of interacting.

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