First the education of the senses,
then the education of the intellect -
Montessori's vision and
method are still popular.
Montessori (1870 - 1952). Maria Montessori was the first woman
in Italy to qualify as a physician. She developed an interest in
the diseases of children and in the needs of those said to be
'ineducable' In the case of the latter she argued for the
development of training for teachers along Froebelian lines (she
also drew on Rousseau and Pestalozzi) and developed the principle
that was also to inform her general educational programme: first the education of the senses, then the education of the
intellect. Maria Montessori developed a teaching programme
that enabled 'defective' children to read and write. She sought to
teach skills not by having children repeatedly try it, but by
developing exercises that prepare them. These exercises would then
be repeated: Looking becomes reading; touching becomes writing.
(See The Montessoria Method).
The success of her method
then caused her to ask questions of 'normal' education and the
ways in which failed children. Maria Montessori had the chance to
test her programme and ideas with the establishment of the first Casa dei Bambini (Children's house or household) in Rome in
1907. (This house had been built as part of a slum redevelopment).
This house and those that followed were designed to provide a good
environment for children to live and learn. An emphasis was placed
on self-determination and self-realization. This entailed
developing a concern for others and discipline and to do this
children engaged in exercices de la vie pratique (exercise
in daily living). These and other exercises were to function like
a ladder - allowing the child to pick up the challenge and to
judge their progress. 'The essential thing is for the task to
arouse such an interest that it engages the child's whole
personality' (Maria Montessori - The Absorbent Mind: 206).
This connected with a
further element in the Montessori programme - decentring the
teacher. The teacher was the 'keeper' of the environment. While
children got on with their activities the task was to observe and
to intervene from the periphery. (Here there are a number of
parallels with Dewey).
The focus on
self-realization through independent activity, the concern with
attitude, and the focus on the educator as the keeper of the
environment (and making use of their scientific powers of
observation and reflection) - all have some echo in the work of
informal educators. However, it is Maria Montessori's notion of
the Children's House as a stimulating environment in which
participants can learn to take responsibility that has a
Further reading and references
Montessori, M. (1916) The Montessoria Method, New York: Schocken Books (1964
edition). Usually seen as the classic statement of her approach.
Contents examine the new pedagogy, the pedagogical methods of the
'Children's House', methods, discipline, sequencing etc.
Montessori, M. (1949) The Absorbent Mind, New York: Dell (1967 edn.)
The standard work in English is:
Kramer, R. (1978) Maria
Montessori, Oxford: Blackwell.
Websites: there are
several sites devoted to Montessori's work and the continuing
interpretation of her philosophy upon schooling.
Prepared by Mark K. Smith
First published May 8, 1997. Last update:
July 28, 2005
Reproduced from the encyclopedia of