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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What is a Montessori school?

Even a playschool today calls itself a Montessori school. So let us pause and understand the background of Montessori school.

In the year 1939, the Theosophical Society of India extended an invitation to the Dr Maria Montessori, who had started her first Montessori school in Rome, Italy in 1907 as part of a slum development project due to very fortuitous circumstances. The outbreak of World War II made Maria extend her stay in India till 1949, although she returned to Europe for a brief period. Over this period, Maria Montessori conducted sixteen Montessori Training Courses, laying a very sound foundation for the Montessori movement in India. Because she made Adayar, Chennai her home, Montessori schools are perhaps more popular in Chennai and Bengalaru.

Bengalaru today has two accredited training centers and supposed to have 500+ Montessori schools till the age of 6, four Montessori schools till the primary grade, and two till 8th grade. By the way, US has more than 2000 Montessori schools. Larry Page and Sergie Brown (founders of Google), the two most vocal and popular Montessorians, have probably made Montessori more a household name than anyone else, I guess. 

Montessori method of education originated for children between 3-6 years. At this age, the child cannot be developed through 'verbal instructions' because of the nature of his mind, what is called as absorbent mind. At this age, the child absorbs everything indiscriminately like a sponge. So what can one do at this age to develop a child?

Montessori method uses about 600+ activities to help the child between three and six. Because a child at this age primarily uses body and finger movements at this age, Dr Maria Montessori designed 150+ scientific material kits to engage a child's interest and attention. These material kits classified in four categories: exercises of practical life, sensorial, language and arithmetic, each meant to serve a specific purpose, have been perfected over a long period of trials. Please note that the primary purpose of Montessori method is not to teach  the child something, but to develop him.  

Dr Montessori designed these material kits after about 10 years of study. She had a academic background of medicine. Working in a Psychiatry department of a hospital, she ran a school for mentally challenged children without any experience, because she believed that ‘mentally challenged children require developmental or educational treatment, and not medicinal treatment’. When these students fared better than normal students in the state-administered tests,  the world noticed Dr Montessori's work for the first time.

Dr Montessori however felt that these methods can be used for normal children. She studied and incorporated the scientific work of Dr Seguin and Dr Itard , two developmental psychologists, to develop the Montessori method. Her first lab to test her approach, however, could be initiated only when she was invited by a building contractor to start a school for the children of his construction workers in 1907. 

The world took notice of Dr Montessori's work when visitors like Mayor, Kings and Queens, educationists and other experts visited the school and got surprised at what they saw. They observed that children of 3-6 years worked on their own without any 'teacher' to supervise them, greeted outsiders gracefully and concentrated on an activity without anyone overseeing their work. (Montessori class does not have a blackboard and does not follow group teaching).

At the age of 6, a Montessori child is self-disciplined, can concentrate on an activity for a long time, and is well-balanced. In short, the foundation of his personality is laid. Other benefits of Montessori method are supposed to be a bonus. Because of his self-control (not externally-imposed control), a Montessori child also learns faster. For instance, by six he can write a 1-page essay in English language on a subject and can perform fractions in arithmetic. 

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