Maria Montessori transformed early childhood education through her theories of early childhood education. Scholars consider Montessori to be among the earliest and accomplished educators. Currently, educators use Montessori ideas and methods in teaching from early childhood to university level. Montessori was an Italian native of Chiaravalle origin.
Several studies refer to Montessori as a person who wanted much from society. This is because Montessori grew up in Italy, a society under the influence of patriarchal practices. At the time, society expected women to do chores related to motherhood and house chores. However, Montessori defied these expectations of society on women. Montessori decided to study engineering, a male-dominated field at her time. She also went to a medical school.
The medical school experiences provided a new insight that drew her towards the study of diseases associated with degenerate children. Montessori discovered the link between education and psychology. These discoveries led Montessori to study the different aspects of children’s needs and wants with special needs. Consequently, Montessori invented a teaching method she referred to as degenerate for children.
Theory of learning
Montessori viewed learning as a process that emanated from controlling the environment and acquiring knowledge through senses. Montessori believed that every child had an Absorbent Mind (Montessori, 1967). The Absorbent Mind enables the child to take the environment as it is and then analyze it. The stages of analysis enabled the child to recall, understand, and think. Teachers encouraged children to undertake their projects and discover their knowledge. In these processes, children make mistakes. According to Montessori, mistakes give children opportunities to critically analyze their problems and solve them independently without assistance. Feedback from the project itself was useful in acquiring new knowledge.
Consequently, teachers avoided the identification of mistakes to enable children to do their self-evaluation. Simultaneously, teachers gave children the freedom to choose their learning materials for the projects. In short, Montessori insisted that knowledge acquisition occurred only through socialization, proper environment, and through practice and mistakes (Gutek, 2004).
Both the direct and indirect means of teaching, according to Montessori, allow children to learn concepts from their environment and make meaning out of them. Montessori also insisted that children’s physical movement enables them to learn much faster from the environment as their young minds began to understand their surroundings. First, children explore the environment with their hands, then play and finally work from it.
Hands enable every child to learn. Hands provide the child with an opportunity to move and manipulate their surroundings. This active involvement allows children to acquire new insights from their environment. This is because when children play, they choose particular objects to fit their specific needs and situations. Subsequently, they acquire new knowledge and skills. Therefore, Montessori insists that a learning environment must facilitate learning and socialization and provide opportunities for children to generate knowledge independently through analysis of their own mistakes and feedback.
According to Montessori, The Absorbent Mind provides the basis for knowledge acquisition among children. For instance, teachers create encouraging and relaxed environments to enable children to learn through interactions, working alone, and in groups. These processes allow children to acquire knowledge from the environment. Therefore, learning must occur in reality, in a practical and organized environment.
Theory of opportunity
Montessori’s theory of opportunity stresses that any child in society can learn regardless of disability and become a contributing member of society. Montessori developed this theory when she was working with children with special needs. During that time, society did not provide any education to children with disabilities and special needs. Montessori proved that these children could learn like other normal children (Morrison, 2009).
Montessori believed in providing an opportunity for every child to acquire knowledge from schooling. This idea led Montessori to start a school among the low-income earners of the society in Rome. According to Montessori, a children’s school was ideal for children with special needs and from poor backgrounds to acquire education.
Montessori showed society that all children should acquire education irrespective of disabilities. Children’s schools acted as a foundation for later life in traditional schools. Montessori viewed school as a part of a family with no barriers, such as gender, race, disability, or class. The school was to provide a rich experience for children to enhance their lives. Montessori ideas of schooling provided opportunities to all children of diverse abilities and socioeconomic backgrounds. The fundamental idea is that schooling should be open to any person who wants to learn irrespective of other factors like disabilities or poor socioeconomic conditions.
It is crucial to highlight that when Montessori started concentrating on education for all children, society’s trends did not approve the provision of opportunities to all children. The culture of the time only provided learning opportunities to well-to-do members of society, and the poor masses had no chances of accessing education (Montessori, 1967).
The Montessori approach was to change the system and provide education to every child ready to learn. The society model provided education opportunities for rich families, whereas the poor class had no access to education. Montessori’s approach to education aimed to provide individualistic attention to all children to acquire knowledge and skills.
The current Montessori model of education views the family as an extension of learning. This model facilitates the relations between school and family where education occurs both at school and in a family setting. This will enable children to collect useful information from both environments to understand society and the environment around them.
This theory is necessary for teaching children of different races, abilities, classes, and gender. Montessori viewed education as a lifelong process. She observed that children who never acquired education did not make any progress in society. Teachers use this theory to accommodate all learners in their classrooms. These learners include low achievers and high achievers and slow and fast learners alike. Opportunity is necessary because education is a matter of an individual’s experiences.
Theory of knowledge
Montessori viewed knowledge as life. The knowledge people acquire from training their senses, and the environment enables them to be productive members of the community. According to Montessori, children must be able to control their environment to gain and understand the world processes (Gutek, 2004). Montessori believed that “practical knowledge from the environment was the best tool in preparing the individual for a better life in society” (Montessori, 1967).
Also, Montessori stressed that people create knowledge from their ability to examine, analyze, observe, criticize, and get meaningful information from the environment (Hainstock, 1997). Therefore, early childhood education is critical of this theory. Teachers give children opportunities to explore their environment by using their senses and deriving meaning from the environment. For the effective acquisition of knowledge, educators encourage research and practical application in learning situations. At the same time, educators also motivate and encourage learners to work hard and advance their learning interests.
According to Montessori, the environment has a profound influence on knowledge and skills acquisitions. Therefore, school becomes a suitable place for children to acquire these experiences in the world. Montessori insists that both the social and physical phenomena of the environment give children opportunities to manipulate their surroundings and enhance their knowledge. To enhance this knowledge, Montessori realized the need to develop suitable learning materials to allow children to experience their classrooms. These learning resources included cards of different colors, objects of 3d dimensions, and counting rods, among other materials.
In a classroom setup, the teacher displays these materials in conspicuous places to enable them to explore them during their leisure time. According to Montessori, “these materials enable children to develop better approaches to the acquisition of academic skills, interest, problem-solving, and a sense of independence in learning processes” (Montessori, 1967). These interactions enabled children to gain knowledge and skills. Therefore, knowledge occurred as a result of learning activities.
Montessori also aimed at distinguishing between belief and knowledge. According to Montessori, knowledge has the proofs of research, whereas belief has no such proofs. She notes that beliefs come from influences from others and individual passion. Therefore, children develop their knowledge by manipulating their surroundings. On the other hand, beliefs come from other people and influences. Montessori insisted that children should use their knowledge to analyze the beliefs they acquire from others. In this regard, knowledge is vital than belief (Hainstock, 1997).
In education, mistakes serve as learning tools, while lies enable the learner to apply critical information analysis. In this process, a lie becomes a part of the mistake, which gives the learner opportunity to criticize the process. Montessori categorized mistakes as part of learning, which was natural in learning situations. Therefore, mistakes have vital roles in enhancing knowledge acquisitions.
Teachers must give learners opportunities to make mistakes and chances to improve on their own mistakes since mistakes naturally occur in any learning situation. In the end, learners will gain experience through repetition and mastery of concepts. Since lies are untruth but are mistakes, they also give a learner an opportunity to discover their own knowledge and skills. This process is similar to the learning process.
Personal teaching philosophy in relation to the theories
I have based my teaching philosophy on the core Montessori theories of learning, opportunity, and knowledge. In my opinion, a helpful teacher is one who creates and inspires students to be their best. Teachers need extra creativity, motivation, and flexibility in order to handle new thoughts and ideas emerging in the course of learning.
The theory of opportunity enables me to instill virtues into students, such as respect for authority, respect for others’ culture, economic, and class background. Incorporating the theory of opportunity into my philosophy enables me to approach teaching with practicality to accommodate both faster and slower learners, advantaged, and disadvantaged learners alike. Students will also take cognizant of others’ cultures and socioeconomic factors.
The theory of learning will promote respect for individual students in my class. The formation of discussion groups, exchange of ideas, class participation, and provision of practical examples will enable my students to learn through interacting with one another. My students will learn through class participation and group discussions. The problem-solving method incorporated in the teaching plan provides opportunities for students to be effective problem-solvers through their mistakes. This will be an ongoing process of learning and growth among students.
The theory of knowledge takes into account classroom management tools. A conducive classroom environment serves as a motivating factor among the learners. My aim is to create necessary reinforcers in order to establish standard norms within the classroom to facilitate learning. This theory will ensure that students are learning listening skills from the environment and choosing their own tools and materials to solve their problems with minimal intervention from the teacher.
No doubt, the theories, and practices of Maria Montessori continue to shape education today at various levels. In fact, the Montessori certificate has become recognized in some countries as a basis for teaching children in kindergarten schools. We must also note that the above theories are not exhaustive since Montessori developed many theories to enhance education among the degenerate kids. She applied both scientific methods and practical approaches to promote education.
The vital points to note in the above theories are that learning and knowledge acquisition must occur in a suitable environment and socially stable situations. Therefore, teachers must note the importance of the environment (classroom) to their learners. Consequently, they must provide such learning conditions regardless of the learners’ abilities and socioeconomic background.
Gutek, G. L. (2004). The Montessori Method: The Origins of an Educational Innovation. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Hainstock, E. (1997). The essential Montessori. New York: Plume Publishing.
Montessori, M. (1967). The absorbent mind. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
Morrison, G. S. (2009). Early childhood education today, 11th ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson.