Dr. Maria Montessori

The Montessori educational approach

Simply put, Dr. Maria Montessori really understood the child and her understanding was based on her keen observations of children in different countries and from different backgrounds. Children throughout the world exhibited the same tendencies and developmental needs no matter what society they grew up in. It was as if the developmental needs of the children could be applied to the universal child.

Armed with a sharp intellect (she was the first female medical doctor in Italy) and trained to observe scientifically, Dr. Maria Montessori developed the Montessori approach to education for children from infancy to adolescence, from 0-18 years, through her observation of children. She based her approach according to the developmental needs of the universal child.

She observed that all children go through 4 planes of development, from birth to maturity. In each plane of development, the child has specific developmental needs, and the needs of the child in each plane must be met before the child moves onto the next plane. Only then will the child develop into a physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually stable adult, who will go into the world, take his or her responsibility in it, nurture it and contribute back to it.

In a nutshell

The Montessori approach to education rests on the premise of supporting the tendencies and sensitivities of each individual child as they present themselves as different developmental needs at each plane of development. This can be summarised in the following way:

  • An environment that serves the particular needs of the child’s plane of development.
  • An adult who understands the developmental needs of the child and acts as a guide to help the child find the child’s natural path of development.
  • Freedom for the child to engage in his/her own development according to the child’s own particular developmental timeline.

(From Montessori Society AMI [UK] website)

What is AMI?

Before she died, Dr. Maria Montessori, together with her son, Mario Montessori, set up the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) to safeguard her work and to continue her teaching through courses offered to adults who would like to work with children. AMI is upheld as the gold standard in Montessori training for adults wishing to work with children using the Montessori principles.

“AMI has a unique role as custodian of the history of the Montessori movement, to maintain the integrity of Maria Montessori’s legacy. In this role AMI is responsible for articulating Montessori philosophy and practice clearly in order to meet the needs of children and influence educational paradigms in a rapidly changing world.” (From AMI website)

AMI’s Mission

AMI’s mission is to support the natural development of the human being from birth to maturity, enabling children to become the transforming elements of society, leading to a harmonious and peaceful world. (From AMI website)

AMI’s Vision

AMI will use its internationally recognised authoritative voice regarding the unique nature of childhood and natural human development to advocate for the rights of children and adults to have access to nurturing, developmentally appropriate, educational environments. AMI will do this by preserving the legacy of Dr. Maria Montessori’s vision whilst continuing to innovate and increase the impact and reach of Montessori principles and practice. (From AMI website)

Montessori Proponents

Jeff Bezos

Amazon’s founder, who proudly cites his Montessori roots, is a study in contradictions: analytical and intuitive, careful and audacious, playful and determined. Critics note his extraordinary ability to learn from others, one hallmark of Montessori education.

Sergey Brin & Larry Page

“You can’t understand Google,” says Wired, “unless you know its founders were Montessori kids… In a Montessori school, you paint because you have something to express or you just want to… not because the teacher said so. This is baked into Larry and Sergey… it’s how their brains were programmed early on.”

Erik Erikson

The Danish-German-American psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on human social development, Erikson may be most famous for coining the phrase “identity crisis”. He found Montessori ideas so compelling that he studied them as an adult, acquiring a Montessori teaching certificate but never teaching in a classroom.

Katherine Graham

Crisis forced Katherine Graham to assume control of the Washington Post. Her confidence faltered but — remembering that what matters is how people learn, not what they know — Graham said, “The Montessori method, learning by doing, once again became my stock in trade.” Her reign at the highly-regarded paper lasted more than two decades.

Helen Keller

Maria Montessori said that if, deaf and blind, Helen Keller became “a woman and writer of exceptional culture, who better than she proves the potency of the Montessori method?” In her tribute to Montessori, Helen’s teacher observes, “Only through freedom can people develop self control, self dependence, willpower and initiative. This is the lesson Helen’s education has for the world.”

HM Queen Noor of Jordan

Her Majesty Queen Noor is an international public servant and an outspoken voice on issues of world peace and justice. Her orientation toward peace directly reflects Maria Montessori’s — herself a three-time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee whose “education for peace” philosophy underpins our approach.

Yo Yo Ma

A child prodigy cellist and Montessori student, Yo Yo Ma learnt early to follow his own interests and think outside traditional definitions. Today, critics call his artistic style “omnivorous” in reference to his versatility, his notably eclectic repertoire and his musical iconoclasm.

Joshua Bell

A world-renowned violinist, Joshua Bell is thoughtful about the role his music plays in society. In a cultural experiment turned Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post story, it is Bell’s humility, not his virtuosity, that most inspires. In suspending his fame to explore the true meaning of his work, Bell exhibits Montessori thinking at its best.

David Blaine

David Blaine was a four-year old Montessori student when he fell in love with magic. Today he’s called “the modern day Houdini” by The New York Times, which says, “He’s taken a craft that’s been around for hundreds of years and done something unique and fresh with it… His magic “operates on an uncommonly personal level.”

Dakota Fanning

This youngest-ever Screen Actors Award nominee, history’s youngest Academy member, recalls, “I learnt to read at two… in a Montessori school where they teach you to read really, really young.” Montessori kids are not technically taught to read, but they work at their own pace in age-diverse groups — not in curriculum-dictated lockstep with same-age peers. For Fanning, autonomy led to early achievement throughout her life.

Dr. Berry Brazelton

Dr. Brazelton’s positive, child-oriented philosophy of parenting has influenced countless families to raise children who are “confident, caring, and hungry to learn”. Brazelton attended a Montessori school as a child and now supports Montessori philosophy through his lectures and publications.

Devi Sridhar

At 18, Devi Sridhar (a former Montessorian) spoke five languages, played both tennis and the violin expertly, and co-wrote a book on Indian mythology. In 2002, she became the youngest Rhodes Scholar in the program’s 100-year history. Interested in health as a young person, she now directs CEG’s global health governance project.

Will Wright

The video game innovator says Montessori was the “imagination amplifier” that prepared him for creating The Sims, Sim City, Spore and Super Mario Brothers. “Sim City comes right out of Montessori… It’s all about learning on your own terms.”

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift, country music’s youngest-ever Entertainer of the Year, attended Alvernia Montessori School in Berks County Pa. The singer is widely described as “the product of homegrown values”; New York Times calls her “one of pop’s finest songwriters, country music’s foremost pragmatist, and more in touch with her inner life than most adults”.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Marquez said his Montessori education gave him “the desire to kiss literature” and states, “I do not believe there is a method better than Montessori for making children sensitive to the beauties of the world and awakening their curiosity regarding the secrets of life.”

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

As a child, the former First Lady attended Miss Chapin’s School for Girls in Manhattan. Miss Chapin was a pioneer in education for girls; she attended Dr. Montessori’s New York lectures in the 1930s and enthusiastically included Montessori methods in her classrooms.

Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker, once a Montessori child, is one of the most influential management gurus in history. His work focuses on human relationships as opposed to numbers-crunching; his books are filled with lessons on how organisations can bring out the best in people, and how workers can find dignity and community in their work.

Beyonce Knowles

In Houston, at St. Mary of the Purification Montessori, Beyoncé’s talents first emerged. In a school that valued both art and academics, a top student and world-class performer was born. Today, Beyoncé has been nominated for more Grammys than anyone in history and is one of pop music’s most highly-regarded figures.

Sean “P Diddy” Combs

The multi-talented hip hop artist Sean “P Diddy” Combs says he feels fortunate to have attended Mount Vernon Montessori School during his childhood, recalling that, “I feel like I was nurtured into wanting to be somebody special.”

Anne Frank

Anne Frank’s famous diary is a natural extension of her school experience. She —like all Montessori students — learnt to cultivate observation skills and record her thoughts in a journal early on. Diary of a Young Girl has been translated into 67 languages and is one of the best loved books in the world today.

Friedensreich Hundertwasser

This world-renowned Austrian painter and architect attended a Montessori school in Vienna, which influenced both his affinity for vibrant colours and his love of nature. He collected pebbles and pressed flowers as a child, demonstrating an early interest in small, precious things — which later manifested itself in his work.

Julia Child

A student of Mrs. Davie’s Montesorri School in Pasadena California, Ms. Child exuded a sense of fun and inspired others to try new things in the kitchen. She credits a Montessori background with her manual dexterity — a key feature of her mastery as a chef — and with the love and joy she found in her work.

Anthony Doerr

This internationally-acclaimed American author was once a Montessori student of Post Oak’s Head of School, John Long. The sense of wonder that infuses his luminous, precisely-crafted prose is evidence of the gifts, and the love of nature, that were nurtured in him from childhood.

John & Joan Cusack

This sister-brother team, each of whom also has a hefty solo reputation, are not conventional heroes. That the former Montessorians’ work is described as “idiosyncratic”, “offbeat” and “fiercely original” is consistent with their belief in “a kind of Joseph Campbell theory of pursuing bliss. Whatever excites you is what you should be doing”.