The whole truth about the life and method of Maria Montessori: dispelling the myths


There are many myths around the pedagogy and life of Maria Montessori: how can you believe a woman who gave her son to a foster family, the method was developed for mentally retarded children and is generally outdated, children grow up like robots, everything is forbidden to them (or everything is allowed). We'll tell you how things really are.


     Myth #1: Montessori abandoned her child to work with other people's children.
     Myth No. 2: Montessori came up with her theory for mentally retarded children and then extended her discoveries to ordinary children
     Myth No. 3: Montessori pedagogy was invented a hundred years ago and has long been outdated
     Myth No. 4: Montessori is where everything is allowed/everything is prohibited
     Myth #5: Children in a Montessori classroom work on their own, so they won't learn to work together.
     Myth No. 6: Children after a Montessori class have a hard time in a regular school, and teachers speak of them as naughty
     Myth No. 7: You can add “a little Montessori” so that you get developmental activities with “Montessori elements” or toys and games that someone calls “Montessori activities”

After the first tests in the pre-war years, the M. Montessori system did not receive approval in the Soviet Union and remained little known for a long time. The books of M. Montessori herself were not translated, and the works of Yu. A. Fausek were also not heard. After decades of oblivion in Russia, interest in the pedagogy of M. Montessori began to revive.

At first, parents treated her with distrust, teachers were forced to make do with the minimum of available Russian-language information and really expected that the name Montessori would gain the same well-deserved fame in Russia that it enjoys throughout the world.

Time has passed. The Internet is full of toys and activities, instructions for parents and just stories that mention the name of the great teacher. More and more books on this topic are being translated and written. Educational centers for training teachers are appearing and developing, and more and more Montessori classes are opening.

As the amount of reliable information grows, the amount of distorted information also increases. More and more often you can now hear from parents that they not only know about Montessori, but are also well aware of the shortcomings of the method, and will willingly share them in order to temper the enthusiasm of a gullible teacher or parent who knows the Montessori system only from the front.

I would like to dispel some persistent misconceptions associated with the method of scientific pedagogy and the personality of its founder, Maria Montessori.
Myth #1: Montessori abandoned her child to work with other people's children.

To understand what really happened, it is important to consider the historical context and know the real facts. M. Montessori was born in 1870 and at the age of 25 became one of the first female doctors in Italy. This would have been impossible if her father had not accompanied her to every lecture, because the girl could not attend them without a man accompanying her. Now such legalized lack of independence is found only in some Islamic countries, but in Catholic Italy of the century before last, the position of women was in many ways similar. Women were so unexpected of scientific zeal that the diploma form was designed and printed with the expectation that a man's name would be written on it, and her diploma had to be handwritten.

If an unmarried girl, with the consent of her father, was allowed some liberties, then marriage meant the need to leave her career completely for the sake of family affairs. I am not saying that she would have been stoned to death, but I suspect that a young woman would not refuse to marry her lover without good reason.

Maria entered into an agreement with the father of her child that they would not marry other people, but would be in a relationship that we would now call a guest marriage. And this, apparently, really was her, if not a sacrifice, then a compromise for the sake of scientific and social activities.

As for the child, Maria did what all the other mothers in her circle did: she entrusted him to tutors, with the only difference that Mario was with the host family on full board, and instead of wishing him good night every night, his mother visited him on weekends, spending she spent a lot of time playing and communicating with him, which was atypical for her contemporaries.

When Mario grew older, Maria took the boy, and from then on they rarely parted until her death: Mario became her colleague and worked a lot with her during his mother’s life. Mario Montessori made a significant contribution to the development of scientific pedagogy and to the spread of humanistic education throughout the world.

Maria and Mario Montessori
Myth No. 2: Montessori came up with her theory for mentally retarded children and then extended her discoveries to ordinary children

Indeed, Maria Montessori, after graduating from medical university, worked for about two years in an orthophrenic school and contributed to the fact that mentally retarded children began to be treated as children, and translated a number of works on correctional pedagogy into Italian. After that she left there,

because I wanted to work with ordinary children, and devoted more than half a century to various activities.

She took part in the fight against child labor and for women's rights. She received a degree in anthropology and was appointed head of the department of anthropology at the University of Rome. All her life she was engaged in education and self-education, read a lot, translated and wrote herself in several languages, was a very educated person of her time in the field of pedagogy and psychology, corresponded with and personally met with many outstanding people of her time, including scientists of world significance.

She organized a class for preschoolers in Rome, which became a model for many other classes that opened around the world just a decade later. She headed a research institute in Spain. First I gave lectures and then training courses all over the world.

She founded the organizations Opera Montessori and AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) with the goal of not only disseminating the humanistic ideas of scientific pedagogy, but continuing research and developing scientific knowledge. If you still think that two years of work in a medical institution irreparably poisoned half a century of versatile and multifaceted work and continuous self-education, then a commentary on the following myth is at your service.

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Myth No. 3: Montessori pedagogy was invented a hundred years ago and has long been outdated

On the one hand, Montessori was not just great, but a scientist. I think that thanks to her medical and anthropological training, she was able to apply the natural science approach to research in developmental psychology extremely successfully.

Before her, adults often thought about what children should be like, rather than observing them from the position of a researcher. Many of Montessori's ideas, which she put forward based on her observations of children and their reactions to the benefits she offered, have only been confirmed in the 21st century.

Only now has it become possible to study a child’s living, working nervous system with the precision of a neuron, without surgical intervention, in a natural, non-laboratory situation; we can capture the elusive substance of infant attention and many other things that were inaccessible at the beginning of the last century. And these newest studies confirm that Maria Montessori’s brilliant guesses are correct. For example, it has been shown that before the age of six, structures are formed that do not change throughout life, in contrast to the plastic formations that occur at older ages, which explains the physical basis of the absorbent mind that Montessori wrote about.

On the other hand, despite the fact that Maria Montessori did a tremendous amount of work throughout her rather long life, scientific pedagogy is not her sole creation. At the methodological level, she worked best on the age of older preschoolers from 3 to 6 years.

Her son Mario was deeply involved in teaching methods to schoolchildren. Training for parents and teachers to work with families, with children under one year old and from one year to three was developed by Silvana Montanaro. It is not possible to list here all the other people around the world who took part in the creation of Montessori pedagogy and continue to develop the method. She made a lot of efforts to make this movement as international as possible, unbound by the borders and interests of any one country, and to ensure that scientific knowledge in the field of psychology and pedagogy became more accurate and deeper, and educational methods became more perfect. The plan was a success, so it would be a mistake to think that the Montessori method was created only by Montessori herself and only a hundred years ago.
Myth No. 4: Montessori is where everything is allowed/everything is prohibited

They say that one day more guests came to the Montessori class. And a certain lady jokingly addressed the child who was next to her:
- And this is your class in which you do what you want?
“No, madam, we want what we do here,” the boy answered her.

The task of an adult in a Montessori classroom is to select materials that will be useful to a child of a certain age, and to show what to do with these materials. The child can choose within the framework of what is proposed. This allows him to practice with all the passion of a person who indulges in a desired activity.

The Montessori approach is based on the assumption of the creative nature of the child, in which self-improvement and self-development brings pleasure. And if you do not interfere with this attraction, then it will lead the child in the best way for this particular child towards a harmonious, versatile, developed personality, and activity and independence in this process is transformed into responsibility and the ability to realize what is planned and bring what has been started to the end.

In the times of Montessori itself, one could only observe that the children in the class were really busy with their own (or some common) business, that they were learning to write, read and count with joy. Nowadays, numerous facts and studies are known confirming that communication needs,

care and knowledge are vital for a person from birth.

The freedom of a child in a Montessori classroom is the freedom to become oneself, which has nothing to do with permissiveness. There are very simple rules in the classroom aimed at ensuring friendly, respectful, constructive relationships between children and between children and adults. There are rules that help everyone realize the right to perform the exercise they like at their own pace as many times as required to create a new skill or quality for the child himself. Self-reliance is encouraged and there is opportunity to develop reasoned independence.

A classroom filled with teaching materials and exercises is interesting for children, but its appearance may not match the parent's image of an interesting place. This sometimes gives rise to the apparently erroneous impression that there are many prohibitions in the Montessori classroom. Behind all class materials is the systematicity of the scientific method and the appropriateness of the materials, and the rules are reduced to a minimum, necessary and sufficient so that each child can satisfy his or her developmental needs without infringing on those of others, and, if possible, helping his comrades.

Maria Montessori and little pupil Maria Montessori with one of the pupils
Myth #5: Children in a Montessori classroom work on their own, so they won't learn to work together.

Yes, working in a Montessori classroom allows a child to work at an individual pace and rhythm, choose activities and sequence of exercises. But independent study is not the only form of activity, even in classes for children under three years old.

After three, various forms of group work are provided: a large group of children under the guidance of an adult, a group of children among themselves, a small group that spontaneously united to work together with didactic material. Schoolchildren independently plan and implement various events together. An atmosphere of delicate, unobtrusive mutual assistance reigns in the classrooms.

Children learn to cooperate with each other respectfully and correctly. They choose to work together with other children of their own free will, adhere to classroom rules with the help of adults, and this gives them a positive interaction experience.

It is important that Montessori groups are of different ages. This enormously expands the range of situations and behavioral repertoire of children. A recent study showed that it is in the number of spontaneous positive interactions that children studying in a Montessori school differ significantly from their peers in a regular school.

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Myth No. 6: Children after a Montessori class have a hard time in a regular school, and teachers speak of them as naughty

As already mentioned, children who “want what they do” have more internal motivation to complete what they start, and with each successfully completed task they strengthen their will. The experience of following simple rules also accustoms them to self-discipline and gives them the ability to follow the stated rules.

Such children, as a rule, follow the teacher’s instructions because they have already been convinced that the rules established in the Montessori classroom are useful to them, help maintain a working atmosphere, and therefore follow the new rules in the new class. By receiving everything they need to develop themselves, children are generally calmer and more psychologically stable. Z. Freud, who was familiar with the ideas of Montessori, once said this: “Where Maria Montessori visited, I am not needed,” meaning that the technique creates extremely favorable conditions for the development of an extremely healthy personality.

Thanks to this, by school age the child is accustomed to concentration, purposefulness, and consistency. Such psychological maturity cannot prevent a child from being more diligent in class. Children who have not encountered obstacles in satisfying their innate curiosity study with interest anywhere, including school. Their diligence comes from within, so it is very stable and reliable, but also demanding of authority.

Perhaps such children do not make good soldiers. Too thinking, too responsible, too independent. That is why at one time Mussolini was at first very inspired by the serious, organized Montessori students and launched an extensive campaign to introduce Montessori gardens throughout Italy. But it soon became clear that these children, who harmoniously go where they were asked to go, do not march in formation where they are ordered, and their mentors categorically refuse to join the party and train the children of tomorrow's fascists. After this, all Montessori classes were closed overnight, and Maria Montessori left Italy for a long time.

If you do not plan to purposefully raise a thoughtless performer, in the situation of an average Montessori school, a child will still feel better than his peers due to the fact that he will have much more resources to be respectful, correct, and accurately follow instructions, that is, with teach points of view

la - obedient.

Of course, he will better understand the shortcomings of schooling. But other children don’t like school too much, so it’s unlikely that a child after a Montessori class will suffer more than after a regular kindergarten. But the more skills and opportunities a Montessori child has to cope with problematic, stressful and traumatic situations, the longer the child has attended a well-organized Montessori class, and the better his adaptation in a regular class.

In the extreme case, according to Montessori herself, after 18 years, having gone through three or four steps within the new educational system, the child is ready to learn from the world, whatever it may be, which is why there are no Montessori universities - it is assumed that by this age children ready to study at classical universities or engage in some professional activity.

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Myth No. 7: You can add “a little Montessori” so that you get developmental activities with “Montessori elements” or toys and games that someone calls “Montessori activities”

Most of these developmental activities, games and toys in themselves are not only not harmful, but also useful. But it’s better to call a spade a spade and understand what you’re dealing with.

One of the system-forming ideas of Montessori education is that an adult, relying on his experience and knowledge, creates for a child a space filled with materials for activities suitable for the child’s age. Then the adult stands near the child, ready to introduce him to this or that material, and the child, who is allowed to choose from what is offered, follows his inner attraction to what develops him best at this particular moment in his life.

This self-adjusting individualization makes promoting the child’s development extremely effective. At the same time, it allows the child to strengthen his independence, independence, and gives a positive experience of his own activity. Any tool, exercise, activity, or toy offered in a Montessori classroom can be used successfully on its own in a situation where an adult directs a child, as occurs in the traditional educational model.

But at the same time, the effectiveness of the Montessori system will be lost, and only the usefulness of the material itself will remain, which, undoubtedly, was inherent in it, since Montessori pedagogy has been looking for the best examples of developmental aids and activities for a century. This is exactly what often happens when teachers or parents use “Montessori elements” in developmental activities with children. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as one does not mistake such practice for the actual Montessori method.

Often, didactic techniques and aids begin to live their own lives outside the Montessori classroom and serve other purposes. A striking example of this is the numerous exercises with pouring cereal, which appear in many materials in grades 3–6 and serve to improve fine motor skills of the hands, develop an intuitive understanding of the physical properties of the world and, in particular, quantity.

Children under three years old also willingly tinker with cereal, and you can find a million tips for parents on how to organize this. But in this case, the child masters basic fine-motor skills using seemingly the same material, but does not improve them. But a child who is allowed to eat and drink on his own, wash, carry, pour something himself not only trains fine motor skills, but also gross motor skills, independence, and speech and communication skills. Then, for a child under three years old, playing with cereals with less functionality duplicates the listed activities. And if a child is limited in the ability to do self-care, then playing with cereals becomes not only a useful exercise, but also a veiled way to keep the child at a distance from household chores, which is no longer beneficial.

The situation is similar with business boards that have come into fashion. Among Montessori materials there is something similar. But the goals of this material are not only related to fine motor development, they are to stimulate independent standing of children who have not yet begun to walk, and the development of functional independence, that is, the real ability to open locks and locks.

Busy boards, as a rule, are an attempt to combine in one complex many materials for sensory and fine motor development. They vary greatly in quality, from quite interesting solutions to downright dangerous ones (I mean, for example, those in which a child is asked to insert a plug into a non-working socket: this gives the child a very dangerous false idea that these things are designed to be plugged into - poking, rather than turning electrical appliances on and off). Both the best and worst examples of busy boards differ from their prototype in a Montessori environment so much that I would not associate them with it in order to avoid misunderstandings.

In Montessori pedagogy, much attention is paid to planning the child’s environment and the actions of the adult. Outside

Depending on how deeply you know the theory of scientific pedagogy and how much you accept it as a guide to action, I would recommend that parents, if possible, often ask the questions: “Why?”, “What will this give my child? And in the future?

I am not advocating that you turn off your heart and turn on your head; love, care, and acceptance are incredibly important for children. But at times these are useful questions regarding what you do for the child and around the child, what games and toys you offer him and how exactly you do it, what and how you prohibit and allow, what you actually reward him for, and so on.

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