The Montessori Legacy in Early Childhood Development

Are you informed about preschools and the basis for curricular pedagogy used at the schools you are considering?  I highly recommend a commitment to exploring this for parents, because it also helps us understand how rigorously a school supports a particular model, or whether a school practices modified pedagogical principles. Hybridization in teaching and learning styles often evolve as trends based on new information emerge about child well being.

One of the world’s most recognized pioneers in early childhood development (ECD), was Maria Montessori.  To better understand the essence of the Montessori Education System, it is useful to consider her ideas within their foundational contexts.  Dr. Montessori (1870-1952) was an Italian physician and educator.  She first came to her philosophy about child-rearing through medical training, specializing in problems with development and children’s aptitude for learning and socialization.

In 1913, Montessori published a striking work, now dated, called Pedagogical Anthropology.  Nearly 600 pages, the compendium is a forerunner to statistical assessments in childhood development, both physical and psychosocial.  Have you ever thought about measurements your child’s nurse or pediatrician takes on your child – data that pinpoint the circumference of your child’s head, his or her height and weight within cohort range? The genesis of this tradition in assessments and benchmarks came about from Montessori’s and her peers modeling in new pedagogical theory.

While this work was one of several works by Dr. Montessori, an enquirer learns from this text, that she came to understand, for instance, the emotion in children’s’ faces, through studies in the underlying muscle tissue.  When she describes body types, photographs provide details of skeletal development and articulation in very young children.  Based on this knowledge, Montessori sought to understand the experience of the young child, beginning with a tabula rasa (“blank slate”).  Her belief was, once life begins, knowledge comes from experience and perception.

From this standpoint, Montessori focused – as is well-known – on the individual child.  One of her most important works, The Child in the Family, describes how important it is for parents and educators to follow “the spiritual expressions of the child.”  A central tenet of the Montessori Method is valuing, rather than “interfering” with a child’s activities and engagement.  She believed the educational system should provide children, “…shelter in the storm, the oasis in the desert…” , meaning, an environment free of the burdens imposed by attitudes in the adult-centered world.

Montessori was very much influenced by psychoanalysis, the development of the ego, and childhood fluorescence (and trauma). She championed the profound needs of the child in the ego’s struggle to adjust to adults and others in society, and she felt these childhood needs were not recognised by adult society, and could lead to “… an abyss of unexpected evils.”  The “repressed spirit” of the individual child therefore, finds expression in the Montessori Method. The established pedagogy, or ‘system’ for Montessori is dedicated to this emphasis on healthy ego development, and to overcoming damaging aspects of education and society. Her curriculum was an early, child-centered model that emphasizes spontaneous play and options.

Fast forward a century, and Montessori’s ego-development model may seem a little old-fashioned. But institutions continue to integrate her most influential principles into their curriculum.  Her ideas have had globally constructive influences on childhood development theory, on education and educators. Educators continue to value the individuation of the child, the challenges of separating the child from the freedoms of the natural self.  Modern educators influenced by Montessori’s ideas, teach today without being the “educationalists” that earlier critics of Montessori condemned. In a century, Montessori’s pedagogical philosophy diffused universally to cultures and nations of diverse origins.  UNICEF supports the rescue of the child from adult suffering, based on Montessori’s clarity in addressing the individual child’s needs and healthy adjustment to society.

Related Online Topics:

In Wikipedia: The Montessori Education System
In Goodreads: (Clio Montessori Series) To Educate the Human Potential, excerpts by Maria Montessori

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