By Sarah Anderson
This morning I turned on my computer like I do every day, and just like any other day, I found myself going to Google to look something up. Today’s Google “doodle” immediately caught my eye. It featured puzzles, blocks and manipulatives – items that anyone who has ever worked in education is familiar with. As it turns out, today would be Maria Montessori’s 142ndbirthday.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that most people (including myself) do not know much about who Maria Montessori is or what she has contributed to our society. Sure, we hear about and drive by Montessori schools throughout the United States and maybe even take our kids there, but how much do you know about the woman whose name is featured prominently in our education system?
Here are five things you may not know about Maria Montessori:
- Love of Math and Science: In the United States today, we seem to have a shortage of women who are willing to enter the world of math and science, but in the late 1800’s, in Italy, Maria Montessori was ahead of her time. At the age of 13, she entered technical school, where she studied a variety of mathematic and scientific topics. She considered studying engineering upon graduation but opted to go to medical school instead.
- First Female Physician: Because she was a woman, many of her med school classmates and professors protested her attendance, but Maria didn’t let this bother her. She was forced to do her human body dissections in a room alone, because it was unheard of for a man and woman to be together in the same room with a naked body. She eventually graduated as an expert in pediatrics and became the first female in Italy to complete medical school.
- Inspired by Mentally Handicapped Children: Upon graduating from the University of Rome, Maria continued to work with the school’s psychiatric clinic. After much time spent observing children in asylums, she began to advocate for special classrooms and teachers for children with mental disabilities. She eventually joined the National League for the Protection of Retarded Children and directed training for teachers. The students these teachers worked with were soon able to pass the same tests that students without any type of disability took.
- A New Way to Learn: Maria eventually returned to the University of Rome to study psychology, anthropology and philosophy. While she did not earn another degree, she did conduct numerous experiments and observations in elementary schools and developed her own pedagogy. She practiced her new methods when she was asked to oversee the education for a group of low-income families in Rome. Maria set up a non-traditional classroom with furniture that was comfortable and accessible enough for children to move on their own. The children were taught personal care, grooming, how to take care of their homes and pets, how to cook and garden, and even gymnastics. They were allowed to move about freely and work for uninterrupted periods of time. Eventually, Maria noted that the students were more independent and self-disciplined than other children their age. She began traveling around the world to lecture and help set up these types of schools in numerous other countries.
- Still practiced today: Today, Maria’s teaching methods are practiced in over 20,000 schools worldwide, in countries like the United States, France, Japan, Russia, India, Australia, Germany, Indonesia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. These schools usually feature mix aged classrooms, student choice of activity, materials developed specifically for the Montessori style of learning, and uninterrupted segments of work time.
Not everyone agrees with Maria Montessori’s style of education. Both during her lifetime and today there has been much debate over whether Montessori methods are the best way for students to learn.
What do you think? Do your children go to a school that uses Montessori’s style of teaching?