Updated: Sep 1, 2022
152 years after Maria Montessori was born, her educational studies and observations on the way children learn naturally, and her child-centered approach to education and natural development, remain as relevant and widely used today.
Maria Montessori was born on the 31st August 1870 in Italy and today is her birthday.
A core tenet of the Montessori philosophy is to "observe and follow the child". Some of her most well-known quotes from her teachings explain this:
"The teacher... must have a kind of faith that the child will reveal himself through work." (Play is the work of the child - Montessori always referred to their play as work)
"Education is not something the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously."
"To assist a child we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely."
"Although many activities of children may seem pointless to grownups, nature is using them for her own ends. She is building mind and character as well as bone and muscle."
If we change our whole attitude and say to ourselves, 'My child knows what is best for him, let us of course watch that he comes to no harm, but instead of trying to teach him our ways, let us give him the freedom to live his little life in his own way. Then perhaps, if we are observant, we shall learn something about the ways of childhood. This is a new way to look at the responsibility which weighs so heavily on many parents."
When customers ask for my advice on choosing the ideal gift for a child, I am not interested in whether they are buying for a boy or girl; my first question is always,
"What do you notice they like to do? What patterns and behaviours in their play have you seen?"
Our recommendations are always based on child development, schematic behaviours, age suitability and interests. And by age suitability I mean toys and craft activities that enable autonomy and independence when using or doing them.
As Maria Montessori explains:
"The essence of independence is to be able to do something for one’s self. Adults work to finish a task, but the child works in order to grow, and is working to create the adult, the person that is to be. Such experience is not just play... it is work he must do in order to grow up".
The importance of observing your child at work [in play], following their lead, and choosing play materials that enable independence and autonomy, is summed up well by another of Maria's well known quotes,
"The greatest sign of success for a teacher...is to be able to say, 'The children are now working [playing] as if I did not exist.'
For today's parents, who are now spending twice as much time with their children as 50 years ago and more time at home than playing outside (2012 research), this end-result holds true for us too, not as a measure of success in our parenting, but in being able to balance and juggle child-caring with the other demands expected of today's parent.