Monday, January 11, 2016

Maria Montessori and her method

The news that adorable Prince George of Cambridge has started at a Montessori school has once again thrown the method into the spotlight.

Dr. Montessori (she was one of Italy's first female physicians) was born in 1870 in Chiaravalle in North-Central Italy. Her initial interest was in psychiatry and from there she became interested in the education of developmentally disabled children. She then transferred her observations of this population to the general population of young learners.

Characteristics of the method are multi-age, relatively large groups of students, student choice of learning activity, and specially prepared materials to support activities. The primary characteristic perhaps is that the traditional educational formula of teacher-imparting-knowledge and group-of-students-passively-receiving-knowledge is abandoned. It occurs to me that the method has an intrinsically political implication in terms of social behavior; not too surprisingly, Mussolini eventually broke with Montessori, closing all such schools in Italy (followed by Hitler, who did the same in Germany and Austria.) The method heavily relies on student interest and enthusiasm, and activities are often goal-oriented e.g. setting the table and clearing it (will little George ever apply this skill?)

The Montessori method has gained worldwide acclaim over the course of the last century. For more information, see the site of the American Montessori Society here. And below is a cool video of a wee one doing his Montessori thing (a three hour cycle reduced to five minutes.)