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ParentsCanada Guide to Private School - Fall 2017

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ParentsCanada Guide to Private School | 2017 22 | AHEAD BY A century Maria Montessori, born in 1870 in Chiaravalle, Italy, was always ahead of her time. Girls were not encouraged then to pursue an education past elementary school, and women held defined gender roles. But with her mother's encouragement, Montessori enrolled, at 14, in a technical school traditionally for boys. After studying engineering, she switched to medicine and became Italy's first female medical doctor in 1896. Studying psychiatry at the University of Rome, Montessori became involved in education when she began treating children with special needs. She helped the kids she worked with make great strides in their learning and development. Casa dei Bambini Montessori's work grew into observing the behaviour of all children when, in 1907, she had the opportunity to open a centre of care for 50 very poor, preschool-age children in part of Rome. It was called 'Casa dei Bambini' – the children's home. With these kids, Montessori used some of the materials she had employed with mentally challenged children, such as puzzles and eye-hand manipulative exercises. She also had them help out with practical, everyday tasks including cleaning and gardening. The children were fascinated with her program and took to it with demonstrable success. Behaviour problems improved dramatically. The children's exploding growth and thirst for learning led Montessori to developing more concrete learning materials. She continued to observe, concluding that children learn naturally in predictable ways, with distinct 'planes of development', starting with the most crucial: birth to age six. Dr. Montessori adapted and experimented with her program – including teacher training. News of the success of Casa dei Bambini brought many visitors who came to see it at work for themselves. She continued observing, adapting and honing her method and materials. Schools employing her techniques started to open elsewhere, including England and Spain. Luminaries such as Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Ayn Rand became fans of her thinking about education. Expansion – and adversity at home Montessori expanded her program through the elementary years in the 1920s and 30s, for ages six to 12 years and ages 12 to 18. After Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy, he at first encouraged Montessori schools, funding them and helping establish a teacher training centre. But later, he insisted that all students in the country, including Montessori pupils, enrol in his fascist youth organization. Maria Montessori was exiled when she refused to comply, first to Spain – which was subsequently taken over by its own fascist government – and then to The Netherlands. In 1939, she was invited to India, where she conducted training courses. In the 1940s, she developed her method further, this time to include babies and toddlers. She returned to Europe for a time, travelled to Pakistan and back to India. Montessori was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. She moved to The Netherlands in 1951, where she died the following year. FOUNDED IN A POOR AREA OF ROME IN 1907, MONTESSORI EDUCATION IS STILL AROUND MONTESSORI TODAY Montessori education really began to take off in North America in the 1950s and 60s. Today, there are tens of thousands of Montessori schools in more than 100 countries. Characteristics of Montessori education • Three-year age groupings based on developmental 'planes': infant/toddler (0 to 3), Casa (3 to 6) lower elementary (6 to 9), upper elementary (9 to 12), and middle school (12 to 14). The majority offer Casa through upper elementary. • Montessori curriculum. • Teachers formally trained in the Montessori method and philosophy. • Prepared environment: low, open shelving, large area for floor work, appropriately sized furniture. Tactile, sensory materials, specific Montessori materials. These are attractively displayed in sequence for use by children and teachers in delivering the curriculum. • Freedom with limits (for example, the freedom to move around the classroom after a lesson, choose from specific activities, observe other students' learning. • Individual, child-led, activity- based learning. • Co-operation and collaboration/social interaction. • Significant uninterrupted time blocks for learning and exploring. • Children learning at their own pace: not moving on from a lesson, for example, before they fully understand it – or moving ahead of peers if they're ready. North Star Montessori Shutterstock.com

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