Who is Maria Montessori?
What is Montessori Elementary Education?
Maria Montessori lived in Italy and began to develop her unique approach to education around the turn of the last century. Her background in science (she was the first woman doctor in Italy) allowed her to set aside many biased assumptions about children and how they learn. As she approached the child with fresh eyes, she came to see the child as a natural learner, with capacities that can be nurtured by a rich learning environment and a trained adult who offers "just enough" guidance to be helpful without imposing on the child's innate sense of self-direction. She utilized a mix-age class, natural materials that engage the child's senses, and practical life activities which help the child feel confident and connected to the world which they inhabit.
Maria Montessori left Italy during the time of Mussolini's dictatorship. She spent time India, further developing her approach with the support of Mahatma Gandhi and continued her international work from there. She strongly advocated for the rights of children and was the first person to draw a clear connection between education and world peace. In 1931 Gandhi said this about her work:
“You have very truly remarked that if we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have the struggle, we won’t have to pass fruitless idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering.”
Today, Montessori's approach is practiced all over the world by a wide range of cultures, from urban Tokyo to indigenous Australia, and under an incredible variety of conditions. It continues to stand at the forefront of progressive education, pushing barriers to social justice, environmental advocacy and economic sustainability.
Montessori schools exist to serve a variety of age groups, from infancy through adolescence, and most recently, there are Montessori-lead efforts to bring a more holistic approach to the care of elders with dementia.
Here are a couple of resources about Maria Montessori and Montessori elementary education, sometimes referred to as Cosmic Education. You could also explore the American Montessori Association website or MontessoriGuide.org.