Dr. Maria Montessori, Her Life and Work Part 2/3
Continuing our journey and discovering more about Dr. Montessori’s life and work, we will now tackle part two.
After finally opening her first Montessori school, new challenges and learning opportunities were ahead of Maria Montessori.
Over the first year, Dr. Montessori was able to observe the most miraculous changes in the children. The material, which was first mostly based on practical life and sensorial exercises, proved most useful. It inspired the children; they worked spontaneously, their body language changed, and they preferred work (purposeful activity) to play.
Dr. Montessori couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw that a three-year-old girl isolated herself from her surroundings and showed the utmost interest and concentration while working with wooden cylinders. No disturbance seemed to bother her. She repeated the exercise forty-two times. After this very long time of undisturbed attention, the three-year-old looked up and was rested rather than fatigued. It was her spontaneous interest that had made her repeat this exercise over and over again until she felt her need was satisfied.
For Dr. Montessori, it was hard to believe what changed in front of her eyes.
It took time for me to convince myself that this was not an illusion. “After each new experience, I said to myself, ‘I won’t believe yet, I’ll believe next time’ Thus for a long time I remained incredulous, and at the same time deeply stirred and anxious. How many times did I not reprove the children’s teacher when she told me what the children had done themselves? ‘The only thing that impresses me is the truth’ I would reply severely.” (A Montessori Journey, page 8)
Her wonder and surprise didn’t end there; every day she observed new changes, the children showed a strong desire to independently return objects to their original place, a love of order that is only to be seen at a certain time of age. This was when Dr. Montessori started extending Hugo De Vries theory of sensitive periods from animals to humans.
Soon after, she declared the 6 sensitive Periods for children from zero to six: Movement, Language, Order, Sensorial Exploration, Social Development, and Small Objects. She realized that children could only follow their path of nature and fully exhaust and benefit from the sensitive periods if they had a choice of activity and the freedom to move in a prepared environment. The children surprised her with spontaneous self-discipline, concentration, repetition, the love of silence, and a newfound sense of dignity.
Later on, parents asked Dr. Montessori to teach the children how to read and write. Even though she didn’t quite believe it was appropriate for, under six-year-olds, she tried it, started analyzing words, and prepared material to teach the children how to sound out letters. It was just a matter of time before the children began writing on their own account. They weren’t taught how to do so; they slowly went from one stage of development to the next, exercising all the necessary means for developing their fine motor skills understanding the sounds of letters. Through their own will, the children repeated the exercises until they were personally fully satisfied. The explosion into writing was followed by an explosion into reading.
People all over the world came to see the school. They all wanted to see the miracle work Dr. Montessori had achieved, the new Method that showed children from the slums how to acquire such academic knowledge. Children got to work in a prepared environment with the freedom of choice to fully develop their own personality. Educators, royals, journalists, or simply interested people came from all continents to observe the Casa Dei Bambini in Rome. The newspapers were full of articles and pictures of the miracle school.