Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori was born in 1870 in Italy and died in 1952 in Noordwijk aan Zee (Netherlands). She was the first woman in Italy to earn a doctorate in medicine and worked as a young assistant doctor with mentally handicapped children. In doing so, she recognised the paramount importance of motor skills and sensory activity for the child’s mental development.

The central points of her pedagogy are her holistic educational concept and her basic attitude towards the child. The adult is the child’s companion in its development. Montessori believed in the hidden and creative powers in the child.

In her search for suitable developmental material, she was guided by the preliminary work of the French doctors Itard and Séguin, who had developed didactic material for children with intelligence deficiencies. In long systematic experiments, new material was designed and tested in practice.

The first Montessori children’s house was founded in Rome in 1907. Today there are many children’s houses and schools in almost all countries of the world. Montessori education is scientifically recognised and is reflected in numerous learning plans.

At the centre of their pedagogical concept is the child, who is self-active within freedom and limits, following his or her inner blueprint through freely chosen activities with appropriate didactic development materials.

Maria Montessori developed models in which the child’s interest and attention for its own activity can be awakened and maintained. The material she developed plays an important role in this. It does not have a determining but a serving function for “opening up the world”.


The prepared environment

When a child comes to a Montessori centre, they should have the feeling: ‘The environment is mine!’ Children are born into a world – created by adults for adults – that is too big, too complicated and too inscrutable for them. We create a ‘prepared environment’ to help children understand the world and guide them towards independence and autonomy.

The rooms in our facilities are designed with children in mind; furniture and objects are tailored to the needs, size and strength of the children. Order and structure provide indirect support for the child’s inner organisation, conveying security and self-confidence. The work materials are only available once and have a specific place in the room. This gives the child orientation.

We assume that children understand and comprehend a great deal, provided they are given the freedom to act according to their inclinations and interests. Every child has an inner drive to explore their surroundings, to get to know the outside world and to acquire knowledge, language and maths.

„One must adapt the child’s environment so that he can find in it all the elements necessary for the stages of his development, can linger and find the help he needs’“ (M. Montessori)

„One must adapt the child’s environment so that it can find in it all the elements necessary for the stages of his development, can linger and find the help it needs“
(M. Montessori)

Free work and the material

Free work is an important building block in a Montessori centre. Children learn through their own actions. All the forces for the child’s development are within the child and are not brought to the child from outside or given to the child by adults.
Every child has different abilities and interests as well as an individual rhythm of activity. According to Montessori, ‘every person has the same inner blueprint of the soul and predetermined guidelines for development’. We offer children selected sensory and developmental materials so that they can test themselves through their own actions and become increasingly confident in their environment under their own steam.
The child chooses his or her own work materials, activity content and partner. They decide for themselves what they want to do and who they want to do it with – and above all, how long and how often they want to do it.
The Montessori material corresponds to the individual developmental phases of the child in its clarity, structure and subject logic. It is orientated towards the child’s need for active sensory impressions and helps the child to satisfy its inner needs clearly and easily.

As each material is only available once, the children are encouraged to communicate with each other and to respect the needs of other children without disregarding their own. They learn to cooperate and make agreements – the children’s social behaviour towards each other is encouraged.

The role of the Montessori teacher

The teachers in a Montessori centre have confidence in the child’s growth process. ‘The teacher must be passive so that the child can become active,’ said Maria Montessori. In order to enable each child’s individual maturation process, there is no need for active guidelines from the teacher, only the setting of learning goals and encouraging, motivating assessments.

The teachers are the contact persons for the child and always design the environment in such an interesting way that the child can act meaningfully. They are the link between the child and their materials, make a pre-selection of the materials on offer and show the child how to use them appropriately. They help the child, but do not intervene too hastily in their activities and keep others from interfering.

One of the most important pedagogical tasks is the careful, intensive observation of each individual child. In this way, the Montessori teacher knows the child’s current needs and interests as well as their stage of development in order to support and encourage them accordingly. The focus is on developing intuitive skills and supplementing existing knowledge. 

„The child does what you do, not what you tell him to do“

(M. Montessori)

Literature references