Say the name of Maria Montessori to any parent and you’ll be told in no uncertain terms whether that parent is in favor of her mainly child-led educative system or not.
Maria Montessori – Doctor and Teacher
Dr. Montessori (1870-1952), born in Chiaravalle in the region of Marche, spent her lifetime defying norms. She trained as a doctor when few women did, was appointed a lecturer in one of the two female-only teacher training colleges in Italy at the time, and worked intensively with disabled children so that they were able to pass the standard public examinations for schoolchildren, despite having what we would now call “special needs”.
Education in Practical Tasks
It was after this experience that Dr. Montessori was invited to take over the education of a group of youngsters in a low-income area of Rome. There, her lessons included personal hygiene and domestic chores, exercise and caring for plants and animals. She found that the children were happiest undertaking practical tasks and that this more relaxed way of educating them led to an increased self-discipline among the children themselves.
Criticism against Maria Montessori
Later, opponents charged that her methods left little room for normal childhood play and social interaction, that the mixed age classes led to aggression and that parents were excluded from the process so they could not work with their children on weaknesses at home. All of these criticisms have been widely repeated in parenting forums online in recent years, borne out in many cases by the experience of parents and children themselves.
The fact that Dr. Montessori’s methods involve the use of sensory techniques, developed from her time teaching disabled children early in her career, has always caused controversy. This fact, combined with the idea of allowing the children to choose their activities using their own initiative and inclination instead of scheduling specific lessons, has led many to question the depth of education received at a Montessori establishment. It is important to note, however, that the Montessori Method is only intended for use in primary or elementary schools, until the age of twelve, and that learning beyond that age is not covered in the program.
Further criticism has been leveled at the fact that Montessori materials are expensive, which appears to go against its beginnings as a way to educate children with few opportunities for learning. And the lack of opportunity for musical expression in a true Montessori program is a concern to many parents who have happy memories of making lots of noise in their primary school classroom.
Dr. Maria Montessori’s Methods are now Widespread
There is no doubt that teaching methods outside the standard classroom environment have a place in society. After all, not every child is going to be academically bright, and some will react better to practical tasks than rote learning of capital cities and historical dates. Dr. Maria Montessori’s methods may not be universally popular, but they are widespread and even now quite a radical way of educating a child in their formative years.