The question is not what Montessori is, but who she was.
Maria Montessori was an Italian paediatrician who developed parenting doctrines that were entirely revolutionary, for both her era and ours. When asked to sum up her theories, we usually start with a direct quote from the heroine herself; a quote that we try to remember every time our darling, turtle-paced toddler tries to put on her own shoes as we rush out the door:
“Never help a child with a task at which (s)he feels (s)he can succeed”.
For the expansive biography of Dr Maria’s groundbreaking research and inspiring life, please read on through the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) website.
Or, for an abridged summary of Montessori’s kick-ass life (and one to inspire your Little Big people to also be as kick-ass as they can), check out Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. This is not a book endorsement, just a bit of fangirl-dom and hopefully a demonstration that Dr Maria Montessori was a rad-lady, making it into the top 100 women who defied some kind of social norm, rocked out, and is still being recognised for it a century later in a book to empower future rad-ladies.
So what did she preach?
Taken from her published works, the Montessori Method is an approach to education that encourages self-directed, collaborative play through sensory feedback with the aim to develop a stimulating environment for creative learning.
How’s that for paraphrasing?
In this summary, the term education includes that which a parent provides and the principles can be applied to children of all abilities from birth, not just from school-aged years.
Montessori said of her ‘method’:
“I did not invent a method of education, I simply gave some little children a chance to live.”
The Montessori Method encourages the allowance of a child to attempt a task at which HE FEELS he can succeed, irrespective of ability. Montessori encouraged a world where children are assumed capable and treated as such, rather than assumed incapable and catered for.
Not only was the approach quite groundbreaking, especially for the 1920 time period in which she developed it, but too the science! Our knowledge of ‘learning’ on a neuroplastic level, as a physical phenomenon rather than an intellectual, academic or psychological process, has only just commanded the attention of researchers over the last decade! Montessori was a century behind the science but saw the benefits anecdotally in her clinical setting.
‘Montessori-inspired products’ therefore are adaptations to her method which encourage learning through the same sensory awareness and self-guided engagement with the physical world. They promote the involvement of children in those aspects of life that traditional parenting often hastens or restricts - helping cut, prepare and cook meals, helping clean everything, participating in mealtime by sitting at a chair and table and using cutlery, dressing themselves, drying themselves. You get the picture.
Yes, it 100% takes longer. Yes, you will have to assist at times (and sometimes re-do the dishes). But the gift of ‘a chance to live’ is surely worth budgeting extra time before getting out the door, because it makes sense, right? And once they get it, and trust us, they will get it - it’s less work! Imagine not having to wipe hands clean after eating, not having to tame the tiger at your feet while simultaneously preparing dinner, cleaning lunch dishes and remembering your pelvic floor exercises.
Still need convincing of the theories? Here is a list of a few Montessori educated people you may have heard of...
Larry Page and Sergey Brin – Founders of Google
Jeff Bezos – Founder of Amazon.com
Our girl Beyoncé - there's the link!
Jimmy Wales - Founder of Wikepedia
Will Wright - Creator of The Sims, SimCity, and Spore
Sean 'P.Diddy' Combs – Singer
Prince William and Prince Harry - Royal Family
Not to put pressure on your kids or anything...