Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was one of the most influential pioneers in Early Childhood Education this century. Her ideas have become known and recognised worldwide and have considerably influenced education.
Her original interest was medicine. She was the first women to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School, While working as a doctor, Montessori became interested in education. She began working with children with “special needs” She approached education not as a educator or a philosopher, but as a scientist. She used her classroom as a laboratory for observing children and from there, developed ideas to aid in helping to achieve his/her full potential. Dr. Maria Montessori put her ideas into practice, as she developed those that worked. She created a method of education that combined philosophy, with a practical approach based on the idea of freedom for a child within a carefully planned and structured enviornment. She validated that all children are instinctively motivated to learn and that they absorb knowledge without effort when provided with the right kind of activities at the right time of thier development, thier ‘sensitive’ periods.
An observation of Montessori’s, is the importance of the sensitive periods for early childhood learning; this has been reinforced by modern research. These sensitive periods are periods of intense fascination for learning a particular characteristic or skill, for example going up and down steps, reading or putting things in order. It is easier for the child to learn a particular skill during the corresponding sensitive periods, than any other time in his/her life. The Montessori classroom takes advantage of this fact by allowing the child freedom to select individual activities which correspond to his own periods of interest.