Maria Montessori was the first woman physician in Italy and an educator in the early 20th century. She is remembered for her philosophy and known as the founder of the Montessori Method of education that is widely used in both public and private schools throughout the world. She was also a three time Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 1949, 1950, and 1951 for her committed efforts to the children during the fascism of World War II (Soylent Communications, 2008). During her medical practice as assistant surgeon, Montessori was tasked to work in insane asylums for the mentally handicapped children.

She was later appointed as director of an institution for the mentally retarded children in Rome. It was in this institution that she was able to apply her method in educating the cognitively challenged children. Her method was proven to be effective when her deficient 8-year old students took the State reading and writing examination and obtained not only passing marks but above-average scores in the exam taken by normal children of comparable age.

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Her success with these children paved the way to the establishment of Casa dei Bambini or Children’s House for preschool children from the slums of one of Rome’s worst suburbs.

This was Montessori’s first school in Rome that has shaped her reputation and influenced educators worldwide. To this date, Maria Montessori’s name lives through her method of teaching and the Montessori School is recognized in many parts of the globe. Influence The greatest influence of Dr. Maria Montessori in the field of education was her success in teaching the young children with cognitive disability in the institution using her educational method.

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Her method was based on her devoted efforts in observing how children naturally learn and in providing them with nurturing care while enriching their environment (Lewis, 2001).

Through her systematic and scientific approach combined with a loving and maternal relationship with children, Montessori tailored her educational programs relevant to the unique needs of each learner (ibid. ). Her determination in teaching the young mentally challenged children to read, write, spell and count combined with a prepared environment, method and program, these children were able to pass the same examinations given to normal children. Montessori discovered that all children, no matter what privations they had previously suffered, were capable of achieving success when given what they needed (Lewis, 2001).

She also showed that the adults’ failure to provide the right condition for children to prosper is the main cause of children’s failure and not their innate deficiency (ibid. ). Montessori’s approach was built on the premise that “Education should no longer be mostly imparting knowledge but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities” (Montessori Pedagogy, n. d. ). Pedagogy Montessori shaped her study on the research of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the 18th century philosopher, who proposed that the key to learning lies with developing each child's senses, starting with concrete experiences (The Learning Web, n.d. ). She borrowed ideas from Itard and Seguin who had developed materials for the sensory stimulation of mentally retarded children (Jones, 2005). These materials became the Montessori methods sensorial materials (Lillard, 2005). She has also used the theories of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and Friedrich Froebel. Pestalozzi was the first advocate for “hands-on learning” who asserted that students need to learn through their senses and through physical activity (Pestalozzi, 1803; Zuckerman & Resnick, n. d. ).

Froebel created the world’s first kindergarten in Germany in 1837 and developed a set of 20 gifts, e. g. balls, blocks, and sticks to help children recognize and appreciate the common patterns and forms found in nature (Zuckerman & Resnick, n. d. ). Although both Montessori and Froebel supported the child’s right to be active, to explore his environment and develop his own inner resources through every form of investigation and creative efforts, the Montessori pupil does as he pleases as long as he does not do any harm (Holmes, 1912).

Montessori and Froebel saw the need to train children’s senses but Froebel’s materials were not adapted to the training of sensory discrimination whereas the Montessori material carries out the fundamental principle of Pestalozzi which develops the pupil’s mental capacities to distinguish, compare, and handle typical objects through repeated exercises and training (ibid. ).

For physical education, both affirm the need for free bodily activity, rhythmic exercises, and development of muscular control but while the kindergarten seeks much of all this through group games with an imaginative or social content, the Montessori scheme places the emphasis on special exercises designed to give formal training in separate physical functions (ibid. ). Jean Piaget, the Swiss developmental psychologist and Maria Montessori do not agree in the timing of children’s development.

Piaget believed that children had specific periods of cognitive or intellectual development while Montessori believed that while children had specific sensitive periods for development, they should be encouraged to develop all of their senses at an early age and that self-learning would be based on the way the senses develop (The Learning Web, n. d.). Montessori structured her educational program by focusing on the total development of the child. The uniqueness of her method lies in the use of sensorial materials and preparation of a learning environment where the child and not the teacher is the primary focus.

Montessori classrooms are commonly referred to as a prepared environment, reflecting on the care and attention that is given to creating an educational atmosphere that will reinforce the children’s independence and intellectual development (Seldin, 2006). There are no rows of desks in a Montessori classroom. The rooms are safe and comfortable and are set up to facilitate student discussion and stimulate collaborative learning. The child sized furniture is light so the children can arrange them in a comfortable manner and the cabinets were set low so the children could reach them (Montessori, 1965).

Students are usually scattered around the room, working alone or with one or two other students and learning at their own pace and not on the teacher’s schedule of lessons. They learn through activities that involve exploration, manipulations, order, repetition, abstraction, and communication (Montessori, 1964). Educators meet the needs of the students in three age groups: two and a half years, two and a half to six years and six and a half to twelve years (ibid. ). Those in the first two age groups are encouraged by the teachers to use their senses to explore and manipulate materials.

Montessori also discovered that if children were put into groups with other children with a small range in ages, they would not only work together but also help teach each other (Soylent Communications, 2008). The Montessori teachers do not teach in groups. They work with one or two children at a time, and guide, present a new lesson, or quietly observe the class at work (Seldin, 2006). Montessori School vs. Traditional Schools Maria Montessori’s method has continuously influenced many educators from the time she developed her own method and until today due to the success of her program in developing children to their fullest potentials.

All children regardless of their age, culture, or handicapping conditions gained success from her educational program. In a study composed of 53 control and 59 Montessori students made by Angeline Lillard and Nicole Else-Quest (2006), professors of psychology at the University of Virginia comparing outcomes of children at a public inner city Montessori school with children who attended traditional schools, the results revealed that Montessori education provides children with better academic, social and behavioral skills (Montessori-Science, 2008).

The 5 years old Montessori pupils were better prepared for elementary school in reading and math skills than non-Montessori children. They also performed better on executive function, a test thought to be important to success in school and life as well as in adapting to the changing and more complex problems that refers to social justice or fairness. They were more involved in positive shared play and less likely to be involved in rough play at the playground. Among the 12 year olds, the Montessori children wrote more creative essays and use sophisticated sentence structures.

In the social and behavioral skills test, they were likely to choose the positive assertive responses and have a greater sense of community. Students in the Montessori school often respect, help and care for one another. However, in spelling, punctuation and grammar, there were no significant difference in academic skills related to reading and math among the Montessori and non-Montessori students. Lillard and Else-Quest concluded that the Montessori education fosters social and academic skills that are equal or superior to those fostered by a pool of other types of schools (ibid.). In a comparative study made on Montessori and traditional schools, Rathunde (2003) found that Montessori students reported higher affect, potency (feeling alert and energetic), intrinsic motivation (enjoyment, interest and flow experience) than students from traditional middle schools. The study also showed that Montessori teachers are more supportive, classrooms were more orderly, and the overall environment was safer from the slings and arrows of putdowns from teachers and students (ibid. ).

The author also found that the Montessori students spent less time in class listening to lectures and watching media and more time working in collaborative and self-directed ways and they had more positive perceptions of their classmates, oftentimes perceiving them as friends as well as classmates. Conclusion Dr. Maria Montessori discovered in her studies that all children are capable of learning given the proper method, materials and environment. By observing the children and knowing what they need, Dr. Montessori created an environment where children learn in a self-directed manner and discover the joy and fulfillment of learning.

Unlike traditional schools that often consider a child as a blank slate and the teacher as the major force in educating the child, in the Montessori school the student and not the teacher is the main focus of the program and all students learn with and from their peers using various sensorial materials. The Montessori educational method gained international attention and recognition when the mentally challenged children passed and obtained above average scores in the same State examination given to normal children of the same age.

Authorities at that time felt that it was impossible to educate, train, and develop the full potentials of children with cognitive disability. This only shows that Dr. Montessori was not only a dedicated, courageous, and a determined educator. She was ahead of her time in considering the uniqueness and total development of every child. The effectiveness of the Montessori approach in teaching all children is the greatest influence of Dr. Maria Montessori in the field of education.


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Updated: Nov 20, 2023
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Maria Montessori: Pioneer of Progressive Education. (2017, Jan 17). Retrieved from

Maria Montessori: Pioneer of Progressive Education essay
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