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Maria Montessori:
Her Life and Her Method

Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870 at Chiaravalle, a small province of Ancona. Because she possessed, as a young child, a great interest and aptitude for mathematics, her parents moved to Rome so Maria would have the educational advantages of a large city. Encouraged by her parents to become a teacher, she decided instead to venture into the field of engineering. This proved to be not to her liking, and after a brief attraction to biology she made the decision to study medicine - an almost unheard of pursuit for a young woman of Maria Montessori's era. In 1896, she became the first woman in Italy to take the degree of Doctor of Medicine.

After her graduation from medical school she interned at the Psychiatric Clinic of the University of Rome, and her work there with the mentally deficient lead to many of her future ideas. She felt strongly that mental deficiency was more of a pedagogical problem than a medical one and felt that with special educational treatment these handicapped people could be helped. And, in time, her teachings and her understanding resulted in a marked development in the ability of many mentally inferior children.

The first Casa dei Bambini, or "Children's House," was established in the slums of Rome in 1907. A prepared environment was provided for these children, all under five years of age. Dr Montessori used materials previously used to teach older defective children, which were primarily scientific apparatus for testing the accuracy of sensory discriminations.

In 1909, as a result of the great interest in the Casa dei Bambini, Maria Montessori published her Scientific Pedagogy as Applied to Child Education in the Children's Houses. This work attracted great interest, and Americans were among the first to respond. However, many of her ideas soon met with disapproval, due largely to the fact that Americans were set in their ways of education and could not accept change easily. Many people felt that such extensive training for the future development was not warranted for the child of preschool age. Among these were the conservative Darwinians who were strong believers in "fixed intelligence" and who felt that heredity alone determined a child's development. Freud's theories had also gained notice in the early 1900's and tended to minimize the significance of Montessori's revelation that her educational materials awakened the child's spontaneous interest in learning.

Despite setbacks Montessori's work continued, and gradually Montessori movements sprang up in many European countries and in different parts of the world. In 1915, Maria Montessori was enthusiastically welcomed to America. She lectured and gave a course for teachers in California. To acquaint more people with her method, a Montessori class was set up at the San Francisco World Exhibition of 1915. Numerous schools were established in the next few years, but they soon closed as interest waned.

Returning to Europe she lectured in many countries and also spent considerable time in further research; many honors were bestowed upon her for her work. During the war years she established the Montessori movement in India, where it is still flourishing today.

Dr. Montessori died in Holland in 1952 at the age of eighty-one. Upon her death her son Mario became her successor in the direction of the Association Montessori Internatinale, with headquarters in Amsterdam.

Maria Montessori believed that education begins at birth and that the first few years of life, being the most formative, are the most important, both physically and mentally. Even the smallest baby must be exposed to people and sounds and cuddled and talked to if he is to develop into a normal happy child. The baby has an active mind, which does not wait passively for adult instruction, and he becomes apathetic when constantly left alone. Through normal and gradual learning processes, behavior patterns are established and the powers of the adult mind are gradually built up. Proper learning methods in the years from birth to six years will largely determine the kind of person the child will become. Because mental development in these early years proceeds at a rapid rate, this is a period that must not be wasted.

Dr. Montessori felt that in these early years a child has what she referred to as "sensitive periods," during which time he/she is particularly receptive to certain stimuli. A particular sensitivity toward something lasts only until a necessary need is fulfilled. These periods are perhaps most easily seen in the stages of walking and talking.

Sensitive Periods Receptive Interest
Birth - 3 years Absorbent Mind
1½ - 3 years Sensory Experiences
1½ - 4 years Absorbent Mind
1½ - 3 years Language Development,
Coordination and Muscle Development, and
Interest in Small Objects
2 - 4 years Refinement of Movement,
Concern with Truth and Reality, and
Aware of Order Sequence in Time and Space
2½ - 6 years Sensory Refinement
3 - 6 years Susceptibility to Adult Influence
3½ - 4½ years Writing
4 - 4½ years Tactile Sense
4½ - 5½ years Reading
"Maira Montessori"

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