Historical Foundations of Early Childhood Education 

The Montessori Method

In 1896, Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was one of the first women in Italy to receive a medical degree. Early in her medical career, she developed approaches for teaching children with serious developmental delays, children who were previously considered 'unteachable.' She founded the Casa dei Bambini in 1907 in Rome, where she applied and experimented with these methods with children without these cognitive delays. Maria Montessori believed, based on her observations, that  a child's intelligence was not fixed, that learning could be stimulated or stifled by the child's individual experiences, and that children learned best through their own direct sensory experiences of their world. She believed that children went through periods of heightened sensitivity during which their capacity for learning and personal interest in a subject would facilitate rapid and self-driven motivation to learn. She trusted children's instincts about what they were ready to learn and experience, and valued the development of independence and preserving the dignity of the child.

The Montessori approach centers on a child-sized classroom, full of specially designed and sequenced learning materials that were progressively complex. The teacher's role was not that of a teacher, but that of an observer and a guide, hence Montessori teachers are often referred to as directors or directress. The Montessori classroom is divided by 3 year age groups; 0-3, 3-6, and 6-12. Children learn through experience, by observing and doing. They practice practical life skills like buttoning, zipping, cutting, and gardening, enabling children to care for themselves as well as their environment, building skills that will stay with them throughout their lives. Learning in the Montessori classroom is cumulative, constantly building on what was learned prior. Activities are primarily individual, and children move around the classroom freely, choosing their own activities. Children develop respect for each other and their classroom, placing items back on shelves before reaching for new ones. Concepts are taught singularly, to avoid confusion with other concepts that might distract or confuse the development of understanding of one  specific concept. Activities are 'self-correcting', which lets the child know through positive feedback if they have mastered the activity or need to continue to work on it. Their work is taken seriously, and not regarded as play. Children are expected to respect someone's concentration and not interrupt someone during a task. They are able to move about the room and are not rushed through an activity, but are expected to complete activities in-sequence.