Image by: Dorota Semaniszyn

What is the Montessori Philosophy?

In 1896, Maria Montessori became the first woman in Italy to graduate as a doctor of medicine. She developed an interest in education. She was given the opportunity to apply her educational thinking in 1905, when she was asked to organise a school in a slum housing clearance project in San Lorenzo. She called it “Casa dei Banbini” (the Children’s House).

Maria Montessori believed that the most important time in a child’s life was from birth-to-six years of age when they possessed an “absorbent mind” which enabled them effortlessly as they interacted with their environment.

She put a strong emphasis on providing a “favourable” environment where educational materials and activities are made easily accessible. The programme emphasises the importance of developing the child’s independence, responsibility and productivity through experience and education. Practical life activities focus on personal hygiene, self-help, fine and gross motor development and responsibility for the natural and prepared environment. These activities develop concentration and coordination of movement. Sensory resources such as cylinder blocks, touch fabrics, touch tablets, sound boxes and colour tablets encourage children to develop visual and auditory skills, as well as the sense of touch.

Language materials take a child step-by-step through all the stages of language development, including oral expression, writing and reading.  Cultural materials such as globes puzzle maps and life-cycle games introduce children to geography, biology, art and music. An idea is always introduced in a simple sensorial way through hands-on activities.

Neuroscience and the Montessori approach

The field of neuroscience has undergone massive development in recent years and Jeremy Clarke (Montessori International Magazine ) explains the strong links between these new findings and the ideas of Dr Montessori. Clarke primarily speaks of the importance of the repetition and presentation of activities when strengthening cognitive development throughout a child’s sensitive periods.

  • Studies show that the connection formed between neurons in the brain when an activity is completed can be broken if weak. In order to make the bond stronger a child must repeat the activity, an idea encouraged freely by Dr Montessori.
  • Further research has found that when observing our movements, a child’s brain is activated in the same way as it would be if they were doing the action themselves, supporting the presentation of activities.
  • These are not the only links however, it has also been discovered that a relaxed atmosphere is essential to learning as under stressful conditions information is blocked from entering the brain’s area of higher memory.

Whilst there is plenty here to support the Montessori approach, it is worth remembering her ideas were born not from brain scans but from evaluated observations – a skill that we continue to practice and develop at Mrs Roberts’s class.