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A Profound Old New Idea

First put into practice over 100 years ago, Dr. Montessori’s ideas are profoundly relevant and applicable in today’s world.

Dr. Montessori opened her school in 1907, where she refined the methods that became the Montessori Education.

Montessori Education is founded on the observation that learning is a natural human impulse and a life-affirming source of immense pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment.

Therefore, the educator’s role is to nurture the child’s innate curiosity and creativity. Dr. Maria Montessori called her approach the Whole Child Development method, and it is the basis for how we teach academics, music, arts, and physical development.

The remarkable achievements of legions of Montessori graduates around the world, in every field of endeavor, are a testimony to its effectiveness. As Dr. Montessori noted, the goal of a Montessori Education is to “prepare children for life”. Montessori Education aims to instill the skills and confidence to navigate complex relationships, embrace diversity, and face challenges with creativity and optimism.

Rather than just perform well on the next test or entrance exam, Montessori Education aims to give the child the tools to pitch a start-up, lead research teams, pursue justice in the high courts, and otherwise become agents of change.

In 1907, a young physician, Dr. Maria Montessori, opened a small school in Rome’s inner city. It was called “Casa de Bambini,” or Children’s House. The school was unlike anything that had existed previously. It was a bold move. It was based on a daring idea. It was formulated through observing hundreds of children.

It was simply this: Children teach themselves.

Dr. Montessori expanded her audacious idea into a universal vision. Coupled with a carefully crafted classroom approach informed by her beliefs, she developed an educational method that is now celebrated around the world.

Dr. Montessori was a visionary, a woman who led an extraordinary life. As the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome School of Medicine, she gained recognition at a young age for her work in math and the established sciences. She also pursued study in the newer disciplines of the day, anthropology and psychiatry, two areas of interest that would be of great value to her in her work as a physician and scientist.

Her approach to education was developed based on her observations, in conjunction with her background in psychology and her belief that the education of children was the means to create a better society. She observed children around the world and found that the laws of development she had recognized in Italy were universal and inherent in children of all races and cultures. The Montessori approach to education continues to be respected and practiced internationally today.

To be a woman actively practicing medicine in Italy in 1896 was a remarkable enough achievement to bring public acclaim and notoriety. Yet, it was Dr. Montessori’s gift to children—her gift of truly seeing, understanding and respecting children—that led to her greatest accomplishment: the development of a unique and effective approach to the education of children.

Dr. Montessori’s success in Italy led to international recognition. For over 40 years, she traveled the world lecturing, writing and establishing training programs. In later years, “Education and Peace” became a guiding principle that underpinned her work. Dr. Montessori died in the Netherlands in 1952 after a lifetime devoted to the study of child development. Her approach remains as powerful, inventive and child-responsive today as it was in 1907 when she opened her first school.

The Whole Child Approach

The primary goal of a Montessori program is to help each child reach his or her full potential in all areas of life. Activities promote the development of social skills, emotional growth and physical coordination, as well as cognitive preparation for future intellectual academic endeavors.

The holistic curriculum, under the direction of a specifically prepared teacher, allows the child to experience the joy of learning, have the time to enjoy the process and ensures the development of self-esteem. It provides the experiences from which children create their knowledge.

The Prepared Environment

In order for self-directed learning to take place, the whole learning environment—classroom, materials, social setting and atmosphere—must be supportive of the child. The teacher provides the necessary resources, including opportunities for children to function in a safe and positive environment. Together, the teacher and child form a relationship based on trust and respect that fosters self-confidence and a willingness to try new things.

The Montessori Materials

Dr. Montessori’s observations of the kinds of things children enjoy and go back to repeatedly led her to design a number of multi-sensory, sequential and self-correcting materials to facilitate learning.

The Teacher or Guide

Originally called a “directress”, the Montessori guide functions as a designer of the environment, resource person, role model, demonstrator, record-keeper and meticulous observer of each child’s behavior and growth. The guide facilitates learning.

What Experts Say About Montessori

“Significantly better prepared …”

Neuroscience author Jonah Lehrer cites a 2006 study published in Science that compared the educational achievement performance of low-income Milwaukee children who attended Montessori schools versus children who attended a variety of other preschools, as determined by a lottery.

By the end of kindergarten, among 5 year olds, “Montessori students proved to be significantly better prepared for elementary school in reading and math skills than the non-Montessori children,” according to the researchers. “They also tested better on ‘executive function,’ the ability to adapt to changing and more complex problems, an indicator of future school and life success.”

“Better quality of experience …”

Kevin Rathunde, a professor at the University of Utah who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, analyzed the results of a two-year study comparing 150 6th and 8th grade Montessori adolescents to 400 6th and 8th grade students attending traditional schools.

Montessori students reported a significantly better quality of experience in their academic work than did traditional students. In addition, Montessori students also perceived their schools as a more positive community for learning, with more opportunities for active learning, rather than passive learning.

“Child-centered approach …”

“The child-centered approach of Montessori, emphasizing independence and personal responsibility, is the type of experience that leads to an accomplished student who is comfortable with an independent approach to learning.”

Doug McCann, Ph.D.Department of Psychology, York University, Toronto, Canada

Empowers students to be “independent learners”

“Our college is committed to engaging and educating students intellectually, morally and spiritually, with rigor and compassion, toward lives of solidarity, service and success. In that context, the university sees obvious benefits to admitting students with Montessori backgrounds. A Montessori education heightens the awareness of community, cultural and global events. These are beneficial components to any prospective college student. These academic and social skills empower the students to be independent learners.”

Roger FortinAcademic Vice President, Xavier University, Ohio

“What great leadership demands …”

“Montessori fosters what great leadership demands. Scholarship today is about more than regurgitating the pronouncements of professor. One must be able to see the ‘big picture’ without overlooking the critical details. The Montessori experience strengthens these skills and makes for a stronger student. Montessori shows great promise for educational reform and provides a foundation for dealing with the university environment.”

Jim GuthrieChair of the Department of Leadership, Policy and OrganizationVanderbilt University, Tennessee

“Most successful entrepreneurs and innovators today”

From a 2012 interview with Knowledge@Wharton (Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania), Tony Wagner, Harvard University innovation education fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center and author of two books, states:

“Well, the first, as I said, is to encourage more exploratory play. So many parents are programming their kids’ days and weeks, are worrying about their kids’ resumes in kindergarten or even earlier. What they need to understand, first and foremost, is that passion derives from more exploratory play. I don’t know whether you picked this up in the book, but I uncovered research to the effect that many of the most successful entrepreneurs and innovators today were, in fact, products of Montessori schools, where it is much more of a play-based form of learning.”

“Learned to follow their curiosity …”

Peter Sims in a 2011 Wall Street Journal article, “The Montessori Mafia,” discusses two studies that support Montessori:

“Ironically, the Montessori educational approach might be the surest route to joining the creative elite, which are so overrepresented by the school’s alumni that one might suspect a Montessori Mafia: Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, videogame pioneer Will Wright and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, not to mention Julia Child and rapper Sean ‘P.Diddy’ Combs.

“The Montessori Mafia showed up in an extensive, six-year study about the way creative business executives think. Professors Jeffrey Dyer of Brigham Young University and Hal Gregersen of globe-spanning business school INSEAD surveyed over 3,000 executives and interviewed 500 people who had either started innovative companies or invented new products.

“A number of the innovative entrepreneurs also went to Montessori schools, where they learned to follow their curiosity,” Gregersen said. “To paraphrase the famous Apple ad campaign, innovators not only learned early on to think different, they act different (and even talk different).”

“Extraordinary results!”

In a 2011 Forbes magazine article, “The Single Best Idea for Reforming K-12 Education,” Steve Denning (author and leadership, business and knowledge guru), states:

“I believe that the single most important idea for reform in K-12 education concerns a change in goal. The goal needs to shift from one of making a system that teaches children a curriculum more efficiently to one of making the system more effective by inspiring lifelong learning in students, so that they are able to have full and productive lives in a rapidly shifting economy.

“Unlike many other ideas now being pursued in education, the shift in goal doesn’t require years of research or armies of consultants or vast funding. It doesn’t involve reinventing the wheel. Thousands of Montessori schools have been on this track for many years, with extraordinary results.”

Steve Denning further supports his message in another 2011 Forbes magazine article, “Is Montessori The Origin Of Google & Amazon?”:

“The idea that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel was striking. The example of thousands of Montessori schools is before us. Montessori puts the student at the center. It is proven to work. As noted by Sivadlk, it’s working on every inhabited continent, at every economic level. The approach is over 100 years old, but the ideas are timeless. The world is finally catching up with Maria Montessori’s insights.”

Famous Montessori Students

Is it a coincidence that so many people on the leading edge of innovation and creativity in our culture attended Montessori schools as children? Perhaps it’s because Montessori offers an education for life and develops the skills children need more than ever before to succeed in today’s dynamic global society.

Notable Montessori graduates include:

Sergey Brin and Larry Page

~ co-Founders of Google

 

Prince William and Prince Harry

~ English royal family

 

George Clooney

~ Academy Award-winning actor, director, producer and humanitarian

 

Helen Hunt

~ Academy Award-winning actress

 

Jeff Bezos

~ founder of Amazon.com and owner of The Washington Post

 

Anne Frank

~ famous diarist from World War II

 

Jimmy Wales

~ founder of Wikipedia

 

Will Wright

~ video game pioneer and designer of The Sims

 

HM Queen Noor of Jordan

~ U.N. advisor, humanitarian activist, memoirist and wife of the late King Hussein of Jordan

 

Taylor Swift

~ Grammy award-winning singer and songwriter

 

Beyonce Knowles

~ singer, songwriter, actress and 16-time Grammy Award winner

 

Katherine Graham

~ former owner-editor of The Washington Post

 

Julia Child

~ star of TV cooking shows and author of numerous cookbooks

 

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

~ Nobel Prize-winning author for literature

 

Joshua Bell

~ American violinist

 

T. Berry Brazelton

~ noted pediatrician, child psychiatrist, and author

 

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis

~ former editor and former first lady (John F. Kennedy)

 

Dakota Fanning

~ actor and youngest-ever Screen Actors Award nominee

 

Peter Drucker

~ author, management consultant, and “social ecologist” awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

 

Helen Keller

~ political activist, author, lecturer and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

 

Yo Yo Ma

~ United Nations Peace Ambassador, winner of 15 Grammy awards and child prodigy cellist

 

Melissa Gilbert

~ child actress in “Little House on the Prairie”

 

John and Joan Cusack

~ actor/screenwriter and Academy Award-nominated actress

 

Sarah Gilbert

~ actress and daytime show co-host and creator

 

David Blaine

~ illusionist and magician

 

Notable parents who chose Montessori schools for their children:

Bill and Hillary Clinton

~ former President and Secretary of State

 

Yul Brynner

~ former actor

 

Michael Douglas

~ actor

 

Yo Yo Ma

~ cellist

 

Others with a Montessori connection:

Helen Keller

~ political activist, author, lecturer and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her teacher, Anne Sullivan,corresponded with Maria Montessori  about their similar educational approaches.

 

Thomas Edison

~ noted scientist and inventor, helped found a Montessori school.

 

President Woodrow Wilson

’s daughter trained as a Montessori teacher. There was a Montessori classroom in the basement of the White House during Wilson’s presidency.

 

Erik Erikson

~ anthropologist/author, had a Montessori teaching certificate.

 

Jean Piaget

~ noted Swiss psychologist, made his first observations of children in a Montessori school. He was also head of the Swiss Montessori Society for many years.

 

Alexander Graham Bell

(inventor) and his wife, Mabel, founded the Montessori Education Association in 1913. They also provided financial support directly to Dr. Maria Montessori and helped establish the first Montessori class in Canada and one of the first in the United States.