Maria Montessori was a native of Chiaravalle Italy, born in 1870 during the time when Italy was declaring its independence (Kramer, 1988). Montessori did not originally wish to go into teaching, but your life path lead her to become the founder of the Montessori schools and philosophy. Montessori refused to assume traditional women's roles. Her independent spirit is reflected in her teaching methods which emphasizes independence, freedom within limits, and respect for the child's own natural psychological development. This research will explore the underpinnings of the Montessori approach and its relation to other learning theories.
There many schools that claim to be Montessori schools, but unless they have at least five basic elements, they are not true Montessori schools. These five elements are:
• mixed age classrooms, with classrooms for children ages 2-1/2 to 6 as the most common format
• students are allowed to choose their own activity within a prescribed range of options
• uninterrupted blocks for time
• a constructivist learning model where children learn concepts through discovery by working with materials, rather than receiving all classroom instruction
• specialized educational materials develop by Montessori in those around her (American Montessori Society, 2011).
The key principle underpinning Montessori approach is that children have a natural desire to learn if given the tools and the chance to do so. When the Montessori method was first developed, it became quickly popular in the United States. However, interest in the program soon faded in lieu of the traditional educational system. Montessori was revived in the 1960s, only it re-emerged as a truly American version (AMSHQ, 2011).
Montessori developed the method be trial and error while working with children with delayed cognitive development. Her methods stress the natural tendency of the child to explore and desire to learn on their own without being prodded. Montessori believed that the teacher's role was to serve the child with a menu of learning experiences that would stimulate them and make them eager to learn. Montessori found that the classroom environment was important for stimulating exploration and learning in the classroom (Seldin, 2010). Montessori schools are designed around the children was small tables and chairs that fit them. Shelves were low to the ground and they had tiny tools that were fitted to the child's hands rather than made for the adults (Seldin, 2010). The entire school was environmentally engineered to fit the child.
The Child as an Active Learner
Montessori is methods were ahead of her time, but many of them were adopted by the mainstream school system, particularly those about restructuring the environment to suit the child's needs not the adults. The Montessori method emphasizes the child involvement in the learning process as a self-directed and motivated human being. Piaget considered play to be an important part of cognitive development. Piaget found that children construct knowledge and make sense of their world through the patterns and categories developed during play. Similar to Montessori, Piaget promoted inquiry-based learning that considered children to be active participants in their environment (Lillard, 2007). Piaget's learning methods are similar to Montessori's in that the learning activities are child-centered in child-directed. Both Montessori and Piaget place the emphasis on the child's needs and interests rather than coercion and control by the teacher.
When given a choice of whether to do a certain activity or being told to do it, children who were given the choice often chose the appropriate activity and were engaged for a longer period of time than those that were told they had to do it (Lillard, 2007). The activities were the same in both groups, the only difference was that it was a choice for one group and an obligation for the other. Children chose the appropriate choice when they were not coerced into doing it. Giving children choices and some control over their lives helps to develop an internal locus of control, which in turn helps to increase their self-esteem and confidence (Lillard, 2007).
Montessori's methods and work influenced many theorists who came after her. The influence of Montessori's were in Piaget's child-directed approach to learning environment. However, Erik Erikson was also influenced by the work of Montessori. Erikson focused on defining various stages of human development. He defined children between the ages of 2 and 6 as trying to develop their individuality and sense of self (Giobbi, 2011). Erikson felt that caregivers who tried to control and use discipline on the child would have a child that was wild and more difficult to control, because the child needed to exert their own independence by doing the opposite of what the adult wanted (Giobbi, 2011). Montessori found the same thing in their classroom. When children were given a choice, they would typically choose the correct one. Montessori classrooms are known for their low level of disobedience. Children in a Montessori classroom tend to be self-disciplined and well mannered, even when they do not act this way outside of the classroom.
Montessori also influenced the work of Bandura and his social learning theory. Bandura supported the use of example, rather than instruction and criticism to influence the correct choice in class (Ormond, 1999). Children in the Montessori classroom depend on social learning environment to encourage exploration and learning. Children see others working beside themselves and it encourages them to work harder and to stick with their learning tasks. They learn discipline from watching others engage in self-discipline. Bandura's social learning theory can explain many of the effects seen in the Montessori classroom.
The Montessori teaching method depends on the ability of the children to self-regulate their behaviors. The choices given to them in the classroom allows them to build their sense of independence and self-determination. Eriksson would find this to be normal for the child. Bandura's theory is perhaps one of the most important to explain what is seen in a Montessori classroom. Social Learning Theory explains the lack of disciplinary problems and the actions seen when the children work independently and quietly (Atherton, 2011).
Montessori used the idea that children would adapt to their environment and that this could be used to gain a positive outcome, particularly in regards to stimulating children to choose activities spontaneously (Huit & Humel, 2008). The environmental design of the classroom challenged the child to adapt and to perform the correct behaviors at the given time. Montessori method creates a positive environment for the development of discipline and the promotion of independence and creativity through the learning experience.
At the time when Montessori first developed her unique teaching method, she was a pioneer. There were no other existing theories to support the ideas that she proposed. She gained her knowledge and understanding of how children learned through observation. The theories of Eriksson, Piaget, and Bandura support the work of Montessori through convergence of the theory coupled with classroom observations. The level of support that Montessori gained for her theories long after her death demonstrates the strength of the theories. The underpinnings and greater understanding of the theoretical principles presented by Montessori came long after the first Montessori schools had come and gone. Montessori developed her theories through observation and through informal observation of her students. She did not spend considerable effort trying to explain why the methods worked, it was enough to see that they worked and solved a problem in education of special populations at the time.
The theories of modern educational theorists came after the work of Montessori. Although their work supports that of Montessori, only Piaget and Erikson directly attribute the development of their theories to Montessori. The Montessori method has solid foundations in that it has consistent and demonstrated results. Montessori schools expect to see a certain…