EDUCATION TRIBUNE

Montessori laid stress on freedom of intellect
Lakhbir Kaur Deol
M
ontessori system of education is a scientific method based on discovered laws of development of the mind and body of the child. The founder of the system, Maria Montessori, was born on August 31, 1870, in Alcona, Italy.

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Montessori laid stress on freedom of intellect
Lakhbir Kaur Deol

Montessori system of education is a scientific method based on discovered laws of development of the mind and body of the child. The founder of the system, Maria Montessori, was born on August 31, 1870, in Alcona, Italy.

She defied her orthodox father and rejected the mores of the conservative Italian society and studied science, becoming the first woman physician in Italy.

She believed that "One becomes a well balanced adult only if one has fully been a child". She, therefore, charted out a complete course to fully develop all capabilities and potentialities lying dormant in the personality of the child.

The basic idea of Montessori education is to awaken the urge for knowledge in the mind of every child. Montessori methods lay stress on the freedom of intellect, "a freedom within limits, achieved through order, which leads eventually to self-discipline."

Maria Montessori realised that all children go through various sensitive periods in particular areas during which they learn more easily than at any other time. "Teach me to do it myself". This simple but profound truth inspired Montessoriís lifelong pursuit of educational reform.

In 1906 she gave up her university chair and medical practice to work with a group of 60 young children of working parents in San Lorenzo district of Rome. It was there that she founded the first Casa dei Bambini, or "Childrenís House", which ultimately came to be known the Montessori method of education.

Every piece of equipment, every exercise, every method Montessori developed was based on what she observed in children to do "naturally", by themselves, unassisted by adults.

These materials combined with her child-centred learning and play material help the child achieve a balance in his/her life at school.

Children must make their own choices and adjust to environment freely and without fear. Maria designed sandpaper letters and saw how children naturally ran their fingers along the edges. Where the rough met the smooth, they learnt the shapes of letters without being told to. They went from tracing the shapes with their fingers to writing them on the chalkboard. Thus, Maria brought the "explosion into writing" where pre-school children were able to read and write something, which they normally learn at six.

On April 7, 1907, she opened the second school in San Lorenzo. Newspapers reported that "miracles" were taking place in Mariaís Schools. People started visiting her schools and were astonished to see children picking up everything on their own.

In Montessori schools there are four areas in which the whole education revolves around are: exercises of practical life, sensorial activities, language and arithmetic.

The materials are kept in a special order and all racks, furniture is of child size so that a child can work independently. The environment has potted plants, fish bowls, and curtains so that children get the feel of a home away from home.

In Mariaís view the task of the teacher is to prepare the environment and then witness the unfolding of the human soul.

The Spanish Government invited her to open a research institute in 1917. In 1919, she began a series of teacher training courses in London. In 1922, she was appointed government inspector of schools in her native Italy, but because of her opposition to Mussoliniís fascism, she was forced to leave Italy in 1934.

Her revolutionary methods for infusing the spirit of freedom, democracy and human sensitivity in the minds of children were looked with scorn by Mussolini and his authoritarian acolytes.

She played a significant role in Spainís civil war along with other democratic intellectuals. She travelled to Barcelona, Spain, and was rescued there by a British cruiser in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.

She opened the Montessori Training Centre in Laren, Netherlands, in 1938 and founded a series of teacher training courses in India in 1939.

In 1940, when India entered World War II, she and her son, Mario Montessori, were interned as enemy aliens, but she was permitted to conduct training courses. Later, she founded the Montessori Centre in London (1947). She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times ó in 1949, 1950, and 1951 ó but could not make it due to her radical views on social issues.

Maria Montessori died in Noordwijk, Holland, in 1952, but her work lives on through the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), the organisation she founded in Amsterdam, Netherlands, in 1929 to carry on her work.

The writer is AMI-trained Montessori teacher.
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