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Origin of the Montessori Method

The Montessori method was developed after 22 years of work by Maria Montessori. Montessori, therefore, declined to term it an invention, but a discovery. The materials and ideas used at the beginning have been radically changed and have taken on the present form.

Nor did she begin to apply an established theory to test whether it worked or not. To understand Montessori`s work, it is essential to know the preparation she had and the circumstances that made her discover the Montessori method (1988:19-20).

Birth and early years of Maria Montessori:

Maria Montessori was born in Chiaravalle on August 31, 1870. Maria`s father was Alessandro Montessori and his mother was Renilde Stoppani (Kramer 1988:21-25). She was patriotic, free-spirited, and self-reliant.

Montessori grew up in strict discipline. At the same time, she was taught generous and hard-working (Standing E. 1998; Kramer 1988). Montessori graduated from the Technical School and dreamed of entering the College of Engineers against her father`s wish, who felt that teaching was the best career for women. She had a change of mind, though, and then wanted to enter the medication. She graduated from medical school in 1896 and became the first lady doctor in Italy.

In 1897, Montessori joined the Psychiatric Clinic of the University of Rome as a volunteer assistant, working in a consulting room to diagnose mental illness, nervous disorders, and therapy sessions, including electrical shock therapy. As part of her duty, she had to visit the asylums of the insane and select appropriate subjects for treatment in the clinic. Children were raised along with adults (Montessori 2006: 22).

One day she visited one of the asylums where the caretaker explained with disgust to Montessori how, after their meals, the children would throw themselves on the floor to find filthy crumbs of bread. Montessori listened and thought about the children coming to the crumbs, fondling and mouthing them.

She looked around and saw the blank, empty room. It happened to her, however, that the children were starving not for food, but for the experience. Since there was nothing in their environment to feel, exercise their hands or eyes on, or play with, anything that came their way. The only way to get out of their boredom was through food (Kramer 1988: 58; Standing 1998: 28).

Montessori started to think about these babies. She observed some of the children admitted to the clinic and found glimmers of response to her various attempts to focus their attention, and direct their activity. She studied mentally disabled children and soon discovered the works of Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard and his disciple Edouard Seguin.

Influence of experimental psychologists:

Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard was a physician at the Institute of Deaf and Dumb in Paris in 1800. He had worked with the famous case of the Aveyron boy, who was considered to be deductible. Itard concluded that the savagery and animal nature of the boy was not the product of congenital idiocy, but of a lack of experience and a lack of capacity building. He tried to civilize Aveyron`s child, stimulating and channeling his senses, hoping eventually to teach him the language (Kramer 1988:60).

Montessori considered Itard to be the "Father of Scientific Pedagogy" instead of Wundt or Binet, the founders of physiological psychology (2006: 25). She argues that the two sources – Pestalozzi`s successful education and Wundt`s experimental psychology – evolved and formed separately in schools.

Academic pedagogy continued to grow side by side with the old foundation; mental assessments were offered to students who did not affect education. Itard`s experiments, on the other hand, were a real start of scientific education, capable of changing both teaching practices and pupils.

Unfortunately, because Itard`s work has been used with deficient children, it has not been taken seriously in the world of education.

Edouard Seguin was a follower of Itard, who adapted methods of educating ordinary children to educate the mentally disabled. Seguin divided the child`s education into a sequence of stages of development from physical movement to intellect, starting with activity education.

He created a series of graded motor training exercises and used basic gymnastics equipment, such as ladders and swings, as well as devices used in daily life – spade, wheelbarrow, hammer – to improve the child`s sense of vision and motor skills. He used different—sized nails inserted in the corresponding—sized holes in the wall, geometric figures to be threaded, and pieces of fabric to be buttoned and tied, to train the children`s senses and teach them the skills of daily life.

He developed the child`s sense of touch by providing objects of different textures, his sense of sight by using colored balls to be placed in holders of the same color, and graduated-length sticks to be arranged in series from the longest to the shortest. His children moved from drawing lines to copying letters, a method that, contrary to what was done in schools, led to writing before reading (Kramer 1988:61).

As Montessori researched Seguin, it was obvious to her that mental disability was a pedagogical problem rather than a medical one. She realized that children with a mental deficit could not be cured in hospitals but trained in schools (Kramer 1988: 61). After two years, from 1897 to 1898, Montessori dedicated herself to learning more about the educational theory of the last two hundred years of children`s deficit studies.

Influence of Educational Pedagogy on Montessori: Montessori`s interest in educational pedagogy was, on the one hand, based on the work of Itard and Seguin, on the training of mentally disabled children, on the other hand, on the ideas of education of normal children, which went back from Froebel and Pestalozzi to Rousseau. The origins of this come together in Rousseau`s mid-eighteenth-century contemporary Jacob Rodriguez Pereira (Kramer 1988: 62).

While Rousseau believed that sense training was the foundation of all knowledge, he put new emphasis on the characteristics of the individual knower—the learning process rather than the learning process. The educator`s task, he said, is to assist the cycle that is latent within the learning mind.

Rousseau demanded that the instructor would thoroughly understand the child to cultivate the intrinsic possibilities of human existence that he saw as capable of being corrupted or even lost by social institutions. The ideals of Rousseau and Montessori are so close that it is difficult to say if they are Montessori's or Rousseau`s (Kramer 1988: 63).

Rousseau proposed that the artificial restraints of the classroom be removed and that the child is left in touch with the immediate physical world, free to learn from his own experience rather than the knowledge imposed on him by the teacher. He believed that the intellect should grow naturally when the body and the senses were educated.

Unlike Rousseau, Montessori never believed that the infant had been tainted by all society.

She claimed that the child had an inherent need to master the world which was the cornerstone of individual growth as well as the advancement of civilization. At the same time, Montessori did not intend to keep children out of school in nature.

She just suggested making good use of nature and making great schools that meet the real needs of children. From the educators who followed Rousseau, Montessori had the idea of developing the senses as a prior basis for abstract learning in a school that was structured in the right, the right way (Kramer 1988: 63).

Rousseau`s ideas were brought to the classroom and Montessori became familiar to Johann Pestalozzi and Friedrich Froebel. The core educational idea of Pestalozzi was the importance of the training of the senses, the conviction that all learning started with the objective perception of concrete objects.

The curriculum he devised was centered on the child`s direct experience of things; it included physical activities, collections, and field trips. The instruction was graded and the skill groupings were an attempt to account for individual differences (Kramer 1988:63-64).

Influence of anthropology on Maria Montessori:

Apart from practicing medicine, and teaching the deaf and the mentally disabled, the use of anthropology techniques has prepared Montessori to discover a new method of education. The anthropology of the nineteenth century was different from that of today.

Anthropology in the seventeenth century was the idea of classifying the varieties of humanity as zoologists and botanists classifying fauna and flora. The anthropology research strengthened Montessori`s habit, which started with the research of medicine and clinical training in observation, contrast, and documenting.

Achille de Giovanni, a physician and medical educator who had inspired Montessori, strongly emphasized the study of the person, studying the anatomy of the specific patient.

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Cesare Lombroso was another influential anthropologist of Montessori`s time.

Lombroso researched the causes and remedies of the antisocial actions of prisoners and took them back to society (Kramer 1988:69). Criminal anthropologists were positivists who believed that there was a need to research the criminal to deal with the crime.

This may be the base of Montessori`s original theory of discipline. The third anthropologist to influence Montessori was Giuseppe Sergi. He focused on the origin and distribution of the races and the geometric representation of the cerebral cranium (Kramer 1988: 69). However, Montessori borrowed from him, not his theories of substance, but the patterns of experimental inquiry that would be extended to children`s learning behavior.

As a result of the anthropology review, Montessori became an intent observer, objectively comparing, documenting, and evaluating rather than merely theorizing a concept.

In 1898, the Austrian Empress Elizabeth was assassinated, and it was the third consecutive assassination by an Italian of a European monarch. The press passed disparaging references to Italians and kept teachers responsible for the degeneration of the values of the younger generation.

Around this time, the Pedagogical Conference was held in Turin, where three thousand teachers from different fields were expected to participate. The key question posed in Congress was, what are schools teaching and training killers? The conference delegates blamed each other for the failure of the education system, a large number of uncontrollable children, and the lack of adequate moral education (Kramer 1988:73).

Montessori delivered a speech combining her experience in medicine, anthropology, education in Seguin, and her practical experience of the vast class of children in Italian society known as intellectual fools, deficient or retarded, emotionally disturbed, and delinquent (Kramer, 1988, p. 73).

Montessori argued that recent scientific findings have shown that these children can be taught and do not require hospitals, but mental therapy (Kramer, 1988, p. 73). She explained how Seguin`s research is going well with the deficient children in his school, using statistics. Montessori believed that the "intellectual fool and the spiritual imbecile were capable of education and should learn the craft, handicrafts such as candle making, rope making, canning, chairs, broom making, domestic or dairy work, and farm work.

They don`t get tired of the repetitive work that an intelligent person gets tired of in a short time. Following the conference, Minister of Education Guido Baccelli asked Montessori to give a series of lectures on unique methods for educating mentally disabled children teachers, and students (Kramer 1988:78; Montessori 2006:22).

Opening of the Orthophrenic School:

As a result of these lectures, a school for weak minds, the orthophrenic School opened in 1900. Montessori devoted her entire two years of life to teaching these children, training students, researching Itard and Seguin, observing, and taking notes.

She was in school from eight o`clock in the morning to seven o`clock in the night, experimenting with various tools, and techniques, seeking everything she learned in her medicine, biology, and education from the predecessors of Seguin, Froebel, and Sergi.

During the night, Montessori took notes of what was learned during the day and took drawings of models for teaching materials, and before she felt she was struck by what worked best (Kramer 1988: 89-91). By the end of the two years, the children who had been sent to asylums as fools were able to read and write and could pass the test intended for healthy children.

The ability of defective children amazed everyone. The media hailed Montessori as a genius who could bring about a transition to poor minds. Nevertheless, as a true scholar, Montessori, studied the findings and became persuaded that the findings were due to a particular kind of instruction that the children had provided, and had little to do with it.

What if the same support was provided to normal children, and what if they were encouraged instead of suffocated and kept back in the schools of the early twentieth century? She became persuaded that if all children were to undergo the same education, there would be a "miracle" and the educational material would "wake up" the holy spirit of the child. Montessori envisaged that this spirit could be the "secret key" to opening up the intellectual progress of children.

Defective Children vs Normal Small Children:

Montessori drew a parallel between defective children who could not develop and normal younger children who had no time to develop (Montessori 2006: 34-35). She deduced that backward children were equivalent to healthy children who were a few years younger than them.

Small children have not yet learned accurate control of muscle movements. We are also unsteady in walking, unable to perform the normal activities of everyday life, including putting on clothes and boots, fastening buckles, buttoning, putting on shoes, and so on. The organs of the senses, such as coordination of eye movements, are not yet completely developed.

Language is only rudimentary and displays the well-known malfunctions of a child's voice. Difficulty in focus and equilibrium problems are other features of the same nature. Montessori realized that methods that were useful in helping the mental development of backward children could help the development of all children. In addition, many language disabilities are acquired and become irreversible in the first few years, so all children, regardless of their mental or emotional status, should be scientifically supported.

Montessori studied as a student of philosophy at the University of Rome (Kramer 1988: 94). In those days, science contained the main theories of Herbart and Hundt`s psychology. Montessori thought that Seguin`s "physiological method" of education, with its sense of sense-training and the value of approaching abstractions through specific ways the child could see and touch, must be based on the psychological concepts established by Wundt as "physiological psychology."

In addition to completing her research in sociology, Montessori took several classes in pedagogy, hygiene, and experimental psychology. She did anthropological work at elementary school as a new way to learn more about normal children and how they were taught.

She toured elementary schools, sitting in the classroom, observing how teachers taught and how children learned in a traditional environment. She found that in the conventional setting, the children sat stonily in row after row, repeating at the same time the words of the teacher or the assistant.

This was the program that had become popular since the beginning of industrial England. It was clear that this approach repressed everything and firmly believed that physical immobility, forced silence, and the use of rewards and punishments were detrimental to the child`s natural abilities (Kramer, 1988, p. 95). She also condemned the sanitary conditions of the college.

First Montessori Children`s House:

Casa – Dei – Bambini: a private company called Instituto Romano di BeniStabili (Roman "Nice Building" Institute "or Roman Real Estate Association) approached Montessori to take care of 50 children who ran wild and vandalized the building and building walls. On 6 January 1907, the first Casa Dei Bambini, the first Children`s Home, opened in Via Dei Marsi, 58.

The children admitted that they were covered in heavy blue drill material so dense that they could not lift their arms or legs. They didn`t seem to have seen anybody other than those in the neighborhood. They were so scared that they held each other`s hands so tightly and had to pull the first child aside to move the whole line. The environment was filled with a loud cry. Montessori (1986:123) in her book The Secret of Childhood Writings,

“…it was impossible to speak to them. Their faces were expressionless, with bewildered eyes as though they had never seen anything in their lives. They were indeed poor, abandoned children, who had grown up in dark, tumble-down slum dwellings with nothing to stimulate their minds and without care. Everyone could see they suffered from malnutrition; … they were closed flowers, but without the freshness of buds, souls concealed beneath a hermetic shell”.

Children belonged to the lower strata of society, where fathers did not have regular jobs but worked as day laborers and were illiterate. As no funds were available to hire a full-time teacher, a porter`s daughter, who knew a little bit about reading and writing, was appointed as guardian of the school (Montessori, 1986:124).

Later on, a little more educated but not completed teacher training was appointed to take care of the children. There were no desks available at the school for the children or the teacher or the usual equipment. Some low-cost, unique materials have therefore been made for the office.

Montessori used the tools she had at the Orthophrenic School. The furniture in the first Montessori Children`s House was a sturdy table for the teacher, a large cupboard with all kinds of items, secured with a lock and key that stayed with the teacher, a couple of long benches for three children each, and armchairs for all children (Montessori 1986:125). Montessori taught the teacher how to use some of the sensory apparatus so that she could present it to the children.

Casa Dei Bambini was different from any other school. First, it wasn`t just a school, but a "home school," a home away from home that combined both elements of home and school. Second, the teacher was a teacher in the general sense, so she was only a caregiver without any teacher instruction. She only followed Montessori`s instructions to the letter.

Thirdly, Bambini was not under any government jurisdiction and thus did not have to obey the order of the education department. Thus, Casa Dei Bambini was totally under the influence of Maria Montessori`s experimentation.

Deficient Children vs. Normal Children:

At the outset, Montessori`s goal was only to examine the difference between deficient and normal children in Casa Dei Bambini (Montessori, 1986, p. 125). In Orthophrenicschool, children required continuous encouragement and support to select and complete their activities.

They also needed continuous persuasion. Whereas in Casa Dei Bambini typical children were drawn to things and their attention was focused on them. They went on to work without rest, completely focused on it. After this spontaneous activity, the children felt happy and relaxed.

In their eyes, there was a serene joy. This kind of research would make them stronger and more psychologically stable. This was a lot more than what Montessori was looking for. In the Secret of Childhood, she says,

“I set to work feeling like a peasant woman who has set aside a good store of seed corn and had found a fertile field in which she may freely sow it. But I was wrong. I had hardly turned over the clods of my field when I found gold instead of wheat; the clods concealed a precious treasure” (1986:121).



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