Maria Montessori was Italy’s first lady doctor. She, a medical doctor by profession, turned out to be the world’s most influential educators of all times. Her scientific bent of mind drove her to observe the children and discover their pedagogical and developmental needs. She found out that traditional education is incompatible with natural developmental and learning patterns. It is oppressive and a hindrance to the wholesome development of the faculties of the mind and the body.
She opened her first Casa dei Bambini (House of Children) in 1907 in Rome. Like a scientist, she observed her children and developed materials and teaching strategies, which were compatible with their natural urges and drives. She tested her findings and shared them with a good group of friend who would verify and report back. It took her nearly twenty years to say that she had developed a system of educating children. She believed that her method of education could cause complete regeneration of mankind.
She got many recognitions for her work. She was asked to represent Italy in many conferences and occasions. She was nominated thrice for the Noble Peace Prize. She was pictured on 1000 Lire note and a 200 Lire coin of Italy. Leaders, educators, scientists, scholars and people from all fields of life praised her work. She wrote many books on her method and conducted Montessori training program all over the world. Thousands of Montessori schools opened all over the world and even after the lapse of more than a hundred years, Montessori system still proves to be superior than other educational systems in every research. It is right when people say that she was “a woman much ahead of her time”.
Research has proved that children in Montessori classrooms develop their capabilities in unique ways, and outperform children studying at conventional schools, not just in academics but also other areas of life. Montessori Children seem happier, are less demanding and are easier to live with than other children of the same age, who have not had similar assistance in their development. Visitors to a Montessori House of children are amazed to see little children, barely out of their diapers, working with concentration and purpose on activities of their choice. There is order and peace. The sight of a 22 months old, spreading dough with a rolling pin and using a cutter to form the shapes or putting on their own aprons, gathering materials, carefully holding the brush, making a painting that pleases them and attaching it with a clothespin to the drying rack – all with minimal need for assistance, comes as a surprise to adults.
Children are also seen spontaneously cleaning up for each other when accidents happen. They learn to wait their turn, walk around each other without bumping and share the attention of the adult. The look of pride and self satisfaction on the child's face after each accomplishment is a clear indication that inner development is taking place. There is no fatigue in these children. Sense of accomplishment fills them with renewed energy. They seem to be as fresh as they were in the morning, when their parents come to collect them in the evening.
Montessori philosophy differs from traditional schools in many ways. Children are grouped in multi-age groups spanning two to three years. Multi-age classrooms serve to encourage cooperation, minimize competition, provide opportunities for indirect learning for younger students as they observe older peers, foster self-confidence in students who serve as role models, and provide long-term child/adult relationships. Educational materials are concrete to aid the child to learn order, to discriminate physical dimensions, provide opportunities to teach responsibility, coordination, and interdependence, and to indirectly prepare for complex abstract concepts. Each child initially responds to an inner urge to develop both knowledge and build identity through spontaneous activity which charts the course for individualized lessons.