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Dr. Maria Montessori began her work with children in the early 1900s. She was the first woman to receive a medical degree in Italy, and began working with pediatric psychiatric patients in Rome. Through careful observation of those children, she began to develop an approach to working with preschool aged children that was revolutionary in her time.
After achieving success with children previously thought uneducable, she began working with normal preschool aged children. It was then that she began to develop an approach to education and a body of didactic materials that are still used in Montessori schools today. Hallmarks of the Montessori method of education are:
• Respect for each child's individual path through recognized developmental stages of growth
• Close observation of children
• The necessity of freely chosen activity within a prepared environment
• A profound belief in the intrinsic human satisfaction in learning and growing which makes education reward enough, eliminating the need for external rewards related to achievement
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She observed that younger children learned from older ones, who in turn derived pleasure and solidified their understandings by helping younger ones, then grouped children in mixed-age groups. The Montessori method of education is designed to take full advantage of self-motivation and the unique ability of young children to develop their own intelligence and physical and psychological capabilities, with the aid of materials and experiences furnished in a carefully prepared environment.
In short, Montessori teaches children how to learn at a critical age – two through six years – when their receptivity to new concepts is most keen and core aspects of their personalities are being formed. Through Montessori, they discover that the will, ability, and skills to learn are inside each of them rather than provided externally. In doing so, it helps provide a foundation of self-confidence and esteem that serves them for the rest of their lives.