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Friday, October 28, 2011

Is Montessori method meant for mentally challenged children only?

A well-read parent asked me this question last week ' If Montessori method is meant for mentally disadvantaged children, is it really useful for normal child?' I think this (misleading) perception has got formed in the public psyche due to two reasons.

One, it is because of Dr Montessori's background in psychiatry and her initial successful experiment with mentally challenged children. After studying medicine, she was working as an assistant to a Professor of Psychiatry in the University of Rome. In order to cure the mentally challenged children, she worked with these children because she felt that what they needed was not medicines, but developmental treatment. She worked for two years with these children.

When these mentally challenged schoolchildren were evaluated at the end of two years, they were evaluated by the same examination that was given to normal children. Many of these children fared better than normal children in the exams. This brought Dr Montessori’s work to the limelight. She was called a ‘miracle worker’.

However, after doing this,  she turned her attention to the development of normal children. She writes, “Thanks to the education of mentally defective, one could imagine an approach to education which is radically different from the traditional method of education”. (*)Her work with mentally challenged children helped her understand the difficulties and obstacles that were faced by normal children in the course of their development. She found that the normal methods of educating children did not help child’s development, but instead distorted development of normal children.

Dr Montessori in the first of her school

She enrolled as a student of philosophy to understand the principles of education. She worked on perfecting her method for next 7 years ( 2000-2007). She used the theories of two renowned educationist, Dr Itard ( who is called the founder of scientific education, in contrast to Binet who is considered the founder of physiological psychology) and Dr Seguin ( who perfected the system for physically challenged children). She started her first school for normal children in 1907 on these principles and later perfected this system with constant observation and experimentation.

Second reason for the above misleading perception is due to the emphasis on 'movement' in Montessori education method. Movement is also used extensively for educating physically & mentally  challenged children today.

Unlike traditional schooling, where a child is taught through 'verbal instruction' and 'blackboard', Montessori method is based on 'individual work by the child through his/her own activity'. Today, psychologists (**) agree that this educational method is the best method for any child. It is ideal for a child 3-6 years old, because the child at this age learns everything through the use of his 'coordinated movement directed by will' as his intelligence is still developing.


Although Dr Montessori had her initial foray in education with mentally challenged children, she had to develop educational method for normal children right from scratch, after understanding the basic principles of scientific education. Educationist and psychologists today have found substantial evidence to confirm that Montessori method is ideal for developing normal children. And , as they say, the best proof of pudding is in eating. If you meet any Montessori child of 5 year old, you can yourself 'feel' the difference of Montessori method first-hand!

* Maria Montessori: The discovery of child
** For more details, read this  book: Angelina Lillard, " Montessori, the science behind Genius" 

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