August 31 – Happy Birthday, Maria Montessori!

Posted on August 31, 2017

Today's famous birthday was a doctor. But she is famous in the field of education, and her name can be found, not on countless hospitals, but on countless schools.

Born in Italy on this date in 1870, Maria Montessori had to face a lot of nay-sayers and stumbling blocks in order to become a doctor. Once she became a doctor, she specialized in children who had what was considered mental disabilities (we now know that mental problems and differences are as physical as any other illness or disorder - but we continue to call brain-centered problems and differences "mental").

Montessori was so important in this field, at a time when few people advocated for children with mental disabilities, that she found herself traveling and speaking and publishing all over Italy and even all over the world! Her main message was that these kids should have educational opportunities that were attuned to their disabilities or differences.

Montessori observed children. She studied others' observations. She trained teachers. She directed a special school that had teacher training and a laboratory classroom. She developed special methods of teaching. She also developed special materials designed to promote learning.

You can see that she was straying pretty far, at this point, from being a medical doctor. And her next studies took her even farther afield:

Montessori enrolled in a university degree program in philosophy, and she did independent studies in both anthropology and in educational philosophy. 

She began to do observation of and experimental research with "mainstream" children (children who were not considered to have mental disabilities). She began to consider adapting her methods and materials for mainstream children - and that is the lasting legacy she gave the world.

Now there are thousands of Montessori schools that use the methods and materials Maria Montessori invented (or, perhaps, the methods and materials that have evolved from those she invented). There are about 4,500 Montessori schools in the United States, and about 20,000 worldwide.

That's a lot of schools! Montessori had a huge impact on education. Let's look at a few of her key ideas:

* Mixed-age classrooms
* Uninterrupted blocks of time, around 3 hours long
* Kids choose what to do from a certain assortment of possible activities
* Kids discover concepts rather than being directly taught those concepts
* Kids have freedom of movement in the classroom

Those are great ideas!


Also on this date:

Independence Day in Trinidad and Tobago

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