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111 Years Of The ‘Montessori Method’…

111 years of the ‘Montessori Method’…

On 06 January 2018, we celebrate 111 years since the opening of the first ‘Casa Dei Bambini’ (House of Children) in San Lorenzo, Rome.

This is a day that offers all Montessorians an opportunity to reflect; not only on the lasting contribution that the Montessori Method has made to the lives of so many children around the world, but also to the manner in which the method was conceived.

Montessori speaks at length about how the ‘Montessori Method’ came about in a lecture that she gave in London on 04 September 1946.

Numerous methods of education exist today and it is difficult to become aquainted with all of them. The method that bears my name is generally seen as one of many, and because of this, doubts arise and conclusions are reached which muddle ideas rather than clarify them. Therefore I would like to demonstrate to you how my method is different.  Other methods are the result of the efforts of people – people of genius – people endowed with a great love of humanity. Although this method bears my name, it is not the result of the efforts of a great thinker who has developed his own ideas. My method is founded on the child himself. Our study has its origins in the child. The method has been achieved by following the  child and his psychology. It is objective, not subjective as all the others are. It is always based on our ability to interpret  our observations of these phenomena which originate in the  child himself. A soundly objective method is based on observation, the obervation of facts, which is why the Montessori Method is entirely different  from all other methods, which come from people who arrived at certain theories.

So – if the ‘Montessori Method’ is not something that was thought out and expounded by Maria Montessori based on her own theories, then why is it called the ‘Montessori Method’?

Montessori explains this very simply:

Well, I never called it that! The title I gave the book, which describes the details of those first experiments, was A Scientific Method of Pedagogy as Applied to Child Education in the Children’s Houses.  I was describing a method of scientific pedagogy. Every science has a method, and this was a method applied to pedagogy. When the time came to translate the title into English (or rather into American English), the publishers said, ‘Good gracious, what a monstrous title! Let us make it simpler. Let us call it ‘The Montessori Method’

Since that time, all English books bear that name, and this is how what we do became known as the ‘Montessori Method’. Montessori, however, was more focussed on the scientific pedagogy than the name given to what she was doing. The underpinning idea of this scientific pedagogy is to understand the child first in order that we can educate her/him. Montessori set about really getting to know the child. She conducted anthropological studies on children, measuring their bodies, recording their personal and family histories, and their social and economic statuses in the hopes of getting to know the children and how human children function and learn. When this proved to be pointless, Montessori tried another approach and developed experimental psychology tests to attempt to provide an idea of the child’s psychology and intelligence. This again proved to be useless, as the tests showed Montessori the level that the children tested had achieved, but did not show her how these children should ideally be taught.

She found that the essential element that was missing in her research was the pedagogy – the theory and practice of teaching.

The education of these children cannot be based on philosophy. The only possible way to educate them is to make use of the energies that lie dormant in each individual child.

Montessori started to understand through her constant work and observation of the children that teaching needed to be more than just a transmission of knowledge. Following a syllabus, and disregarding the inner needs of the developing child limited rather than uplifted the child.

Thus we must make a new plan. We must study the child in relation to the(se) powers from the beginning of life, from birth. We must study and observe the mysterious event, the beginning of the psychic life of man, for the child is the creator of the adult life of man. … We must study the profound and mysterious psychology of the little child, observe its development, and find out what we can do to help.

On the 111th anniversary of the opening of the Casa dei Bambini, we invite all Montessorians to reflect on their own practice. How much of your practice is vested in the observation and study of the child, and how much is still based on the basis of your own ideas and your own prejudices? How often do you truly follow the child, and how often do you follow your needs, wants and prescribed syllabus or curriculum?

Montessori asked in 1946 that we look to the child as our teacher and that we take the child’s revelations as our guide.

When I say that we must take the child as our teacher you will probably object, saying that we must educate the child and give him all sorts of information, that he must learn the subjects we think important. Do not have these prejudices. When his energies are freed, the child will be better able to learn than before.

Therefore, I would call this the Child’s Method, not the Montessori Method.

Powerful words as you all go into the new school year next week!

Happy 111th anniversary of the first Casa, Maria Montessori, and thank you for this ongoing legacy that we are able to continue to share with the children.


(Susanne van Niekerk)