Monday, July 20, 2009

Maria Montessori's Life

I'm finally reading The Montessori Method, Maria Montessori's work outlining her method of educating young children. I have started the book many times, and have never really made it that far-- it's written in a style typical of its time which is very theoretical, wordy, and abstract (especially the first chapters). Luckily, if you plow through the beginning, you are rewarded with some very concrete descriptions.

But I've found some of the facts of Maria Montessori's life to be fascinating-- especially given the almost cult-following that her teachings have generated. I have a couple of books about instigating Montessori principles at home that I just ordered from Amazon and should be headed my way. I'll review those books and mention ideas that I found helpful. But, for today, here are some of those interesting and, at times, shocking, facts about Maria Montessori and the ideas that she propogated:

* Her methods were originally created for severely learning disabled children in the slums of Rome (which she refers to, in a very un-PC manner, as "idiots"). Only after they had been very successful with this population were they modified and expanded for other types of kids.

* She actually envisioned that her "Children's Houses" would essentially replace family units. She had very Utopian visions of children being left in these "houses," and their mothers going off to work, thereby liberating themselves from the oppressive yoke of childcare.

* She herself never had a family. She had one child, out of wedlock, which she put up for adoption. She was a very edgy woman-- a doctor, independent, and I'm guessing, a force to be reckoned with.

* Her method relies very specifically on a certain set of Montessori "tools" that are laid out and employed according to age-appropriateness. Many are similar to those "Melissa and Doug's" toys that you can purchase all over the place-- others, like her gymnastics equipment, are more crazy sounding.

* She had very strong theories about everything, ranging from how children were to sit, to how they were to be interacted with, to what they would eat-- followers of the Westin A. Price theory of high-fat toddler food would probably find a kindred spirit in Montessori. But, she had some weirded dietary beliefs, many of which we would probably discard (like that bread is the perfect food for children, children should have a diet primarily composed of soup, high sugar diets are ideal).

*One principle of Montessori education is mixing age groups-- sort of emulating the family in this way. Children are mixed up with other kids of all ages, and that way have the opportunity to both learn and teach.

So, I'm still reading, and am very absorbed by the parts of her book where she actually gets into the specifics of her "method." It's fascinating, and I'm really excited to start trying out the methods at home-- I'm realizing that we've had a very montessori-style home from the beginning, emphasizing Zosia's ability to guide her own learning. But I'm trying to figure out how to reconcile some of Montessori's foundational beliefs with my own. It's especially tricky for me to reconcile her belief that the family is sort of a thing of the past with my own view that there's nothing more central than the family for a child's development. Montessori was definitely writing before attachment theory was commonly accepted as scientific truth. Or the fact that she never had her own family is also something that changes my view of her theories-- because no matter how many children she taught, she never had them 24-7, nor did she deal with children on a highly-individual basis (her methods relied heavily on a group mentality where children watch and follow older children).

So I'm still committed to incoporating Montessori into our home, but am just realizing that, as with just about any theory, I'll have to do some picking and choosing.

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