January 4, 2007
Montessori Centenary Year Begins January 6, 2007
The centenary year for Montessori education begins on January 6. This was the date in 1907 that Dr Maria Montessori
opened the first Montessori casa dei bambini or children’s house for 50 fifty poor, illiterate children aged from 2-6
years in the slums of Rome, Italy. This was the beginning of the Montessori movement. Today Montessori is the single
largest educational pedagogy in the world with over 8,000 schools on 6 continents.
The centenary will be celebrated worldwide through out 2007, starting with a conference in Rome, Italy.
In New Zealand the centenary will be celebrated by Montessori early childhood centres, primary schools and colleges
with a Montessori National Open Day on February 17, 2007 reports Montessori Association of NZ executive officer, Ana
‘Montessori children, staff and families throughout New Zealand will celebrate this important milestone once centres and
schools reopen after the summer holidays’’ she said. ‘In 2007 Montessori communities around the globe will gather to
recommit themselves to Montessori values and principles for the next 100 years, reflect on what has been achieved on
behalf of the child, and continue to create a context to make Montessori an even more significant voice in education and
social change. The vibrant Montessori community in New Zealand is a vital participant in this global Montessori movement
and together we will honour the past, reflect on our contribution and look to the future for the children of
Maria Montessori was born in Italy on August 31, 1870 and died at 81 in Holland on May 2, 1952. She has been described
as an educator, scientist, physician, philosopher, feminist, and humanitarian, and was the first early childhood
educator to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In the course of her life Dr Maria Montessori came to believe that a
radical reform of education was essential if there was to be any hope for peace in our time.
Dr Montessori was the first woman to practise medicine in Italy and in her work as a general practitioner Dr Montessori
soon became familiar with the plight of Rome’s poorest citizens. She began postgraduate research with so-called
‘’deficient’’ children who were often placed in adult asylums. Montessori spent many hours working with teachers and
children using ideas based on the 'education of the senses' and the 'education of movement'. After two years of work
Montessori’s development of teaching materials and methods brought surprising results with a number of ‘’retarded’’
children passing the public examinations. This inspired Montessori to continue working to seek explanation for the
underachievement of normal children.
Towards the end of 1906 Dr Montessori’s life and career took an unexpected turn, when she was approached to assist with
the unsupervised children in the San Lorenzo quarter of Rome. This area was being renovated from slums and the owners of
new buildings had a problem with what to do with the children under six years of age. These young children had been left
to run about and were dirtying the walls and the courtyard, and spoiling the new gardens.
As a scientist, Dr Montessori needed the chance to test her ideas so on January 6, 1907 she began work with the fifty
poor, illiterate children aged from 2-6 years. With these children Dr Montessori was able to combine a child-centred
approach to education with the materials and methods she had tested on the retarded children.
What ultimately became the Montessori method of education developed there, based upon Dr Montessori’s scientific
observations of these children’s almost effortless ability to absorb knowledge from their surroundings, as well as their
tireless interest in manipulating materials.
Dr Montessori trialed many materials and activities but only kept those that the children were spontaneously and
repeatedly drawn to. In this way the Montessori ‘’method’’ developed and grew purely on the basis of what the children
showed her about themselves. Through her observations and work Dr Montessori discovered the children’s astonishing,
almost effortless ability to learn. With the opening of more Montessori schools it was soon discovered that all
children, whether from economically deprived or privileged backgrounds, were capable of achieving and becoming
independent learners when taught using Dr Montessori’s methods.
Recent developmental research supports Montessori’s conclusions. In a study recently published in Science September 2006
and reported worldwide, researcher Dr Lillard discovered that among five-year-olds, Montessori students proved to be
significantly better prepared for primary school in reading and maths skills than the non-Montessori children. They also
tested better on "executive function", the ability to adapt to change and more complex problems, an indicator of future
school and life success. Montessori children also displayed better results in the social and behavioural tests,
demonstrating a greater sense of justice and fairness. And on the playground they were much more likely to engage in
emotionally positive play with peers, and were less likely to engage in rough play.
Dr Lillard concluded that, "When strictly implemented, Montessori education fosters social and academic skills that are
superior to those fostered by a pool of other types of schools."
History of Montessori Movement in NZ
One of the first New Zealanders to discover Montessori was Miss Newman, a lecturer from the Auckland Teachers College,
who visited the Casa dei Bambini in Rome in 1910.Montessori first emerged in NZ in state schools as early as 1911 in the
Wanganui region. In 1912, 5000 copies of the Margaret Simpson’s Report on the Montessori Methods of Education were
purchased from Sydney, Australia, and disseminated throughout New Zealand for teachers to use as a training manual in
the Montessori method. Her report was later used to train Catholic nuns. Montessori then spread in the mid-1920s in many
Roman Catholic schools, lasting through the Great Depression and the onset of World War II. It was not until the 1970’s
that the New Zealand Montessori movement was reinvigorated. This second wave of Montessori started with the
establishment, by a group of parents, of New Plymouth Montessori in 1976. The following year Montessori preschools
opened in Auckland and Wellington. By 1985 there were 13 Montessori early childhood centres in New Zealand.
The first Montessori primary school opened in Naenae in 1988 and the first Montessori primary class to open in a state
school was at Otari Primary School, Wellington in 1992. The first Montessori college opened in Wellington in 2002.
Today there are 90 Montessori early childhood centres in NZ, 34 Montessori primary classes in state, private and state
integrated schools and 2 Montessori colleges.
Approximately 3% of children attending early childhood services attend a Montessori ece centre. Over 2700 New Zealand
families choose Montessori education for their children in NZ.
Montessori Centres/Schools in NZ
City/Town Montessori early childhood centres Montessori primary/high schools AUCKLAND 16 4 WAIKATO 4 1 BAY OF PLENTY 3
2 GISBORNE/HAWKES BAY 3 1 NEW PLYMOUTH/WANGANUI 2 1 MANAWATU 3 - KAPITI 2 - WAIRARAPA 1 1 WELLINGTON 9 6
NELSON/MARLBOROUGH 3 1 CANTERBURY 5 1 OTAGO 7 2
Note: Montessori centres/schools listed are members of the Montessori Association of NZ
Montessori provides a way for the child to experience ‘’personalised learning’’. A Montessori classroom is a social and
emotional environment where all children and adolescents are respected and empowered as individual human beings. In this
safe learning community each child learns to believe in herself, to explore, learn and discover.
Montessori education can be described as a process based on observation of the learner followed by the learner’s
self-education in a prepared environment. Dr. Montessori believed that by placing children in a stimulating, specially
prepared environment, their natural curiosity would help them become self-motivated learners. She stressed individually
paced learning, freedom of choice and movement, and the importance of self-discovery. Education was ‘preparation for
life’, not merely a search for intellectual skills.
a.. Multi-age classrooms – Montessori classes usually encompass a three year age range which allows younger children the
stimulation of older students, who in turn benefit from being ‘’teachers’’ and role models. Learning communities
encompass 3-6 year olds, 6-9 year olds, 9-12 year olds 13-15 year olds etc. b.. Respectful Communities – Respect for the
person, property, and ideas of others are primary values in the Montessori classroom, as are respectful cooperation and
personal responsibility. The focus is on the entire community of adults and children – a strong and respectful community
that creates a Montessori ‘’family’’. c.. Freedom of Choice – All learners, from infants to adolescents, are free to
choose their own activities, within responsible limits each day. Recent research (Lillard, 2005) supports Dr
Montessori’s insight that children are excited to learn and do learn more when they choose their activity, rather than
have it imposed by the teacher ! d.. Uninterrupted Time – in a Montessori environment the learner is free to concentrate
on their chosen work for as long as they like – no one will urge him to leave it and turn to other things. The learner
may focus exclusively on the project or work that they feel a passionate interest in for many hours, days, weeks and
months! The daily schedule has long periods of uninterrupted time (of up to 3 hours) each morning and afternoon – for
both indoor and outdoor activities. Without constant interruptions from the teachers, change of subjects, breaktimes the
learner has the opportunity to really concentrate and become involved in their exploration at a deep level. e.. Prepared
Environment – Montessori classrooms include curriculum and learning resources to cover the entire span of interest and
abilities up to the most accelerated student in the class – this creates a highly challenging environment to inspire all
learners. The Montessori classroom provides freedom while maintaining an environment that encourages a sense of order
and self-discipline f.. Montessori materials – Montessori recognized that the senses must be educated first in the
development of the intellect and created special learning materials. Children are exposed to complex concepts from an
early age through the use of these ‘’concrete’’ materials which guide the child to discovery. The hands on learning
materials enable learners to literally see and explore abstract concepts. In recognition of the independent nature of
the developing intellect, these materials are self-correcting—that is, from their use, the child discovers for himself
whether he has the right answer. g.. Self-directed learning -the student’s interests are used as a starting point – the
learner selects work or projects that capture their interest. Montessori educators know that children are born creative
and curious and will use the interests and discoveries of all students to enrich the classroom curriculum and as a
springboard for exploration of other areas. h.. Focus on the Whole Child – Montessori classrooms do not focus on
academics alone – Dr Montessori looked to the ‘’whole child’’ and developed an ‘’education for life’’. Students play a
real role in deciding and managing classroom activities and routines from preparing community lunches, learning conflict
resolution skills, to helping classmates and doing community service projects. The classroom functions as a community
with each child playing his or her own part and contributing to the daily life and functioning of the class in a
positive manner. i.. Student Sets own pace - with a mixed age class each learner can find peers and progress at their
own pace. Older children and students work collaboratively with their teacher to develop the skills to plan their goals
and manage their time j.. Montessori ‘’guides’’ - The Montessori teacher prepares the learning environment and
activities, and then functions as a ‘’guide’’ or resource person, providing encouragement and challenge suitable for
each learner. Meeting the individual needs of a wide age range of children is a challenge, but teachers are well
supported by the Montessori philosophy, the prepared learning environment and the flexibility of the daily programme.
k.. Adult-Learner Partnership – the learner and Montessori teacher participate in a respectful, long term partnership.
The teacher will work with the student and his family for 2-3 years. The teacher develops a deep understanding of the
student’s interests, needs and personality and will use the learner’s interests to enrich the curriculum. l.. Whole to
Parts – One of the cornerstones of the Montessori method is the presentation of knowledge as an integrated whole,
emphasizing conceptual relationships between different branches of learning, and the placement of knowledge in its
historical context. Stories about the beginning of the universe, the world of nature and the human experience are shared
with primary aged students. From each ‘’whole part’ the learner then branches out and discovers details of the arts,
history, chemistry, physics, biology, social issues etc. m..
Collaboration not Competition – Dr Montessori observed that competition is an ineffective tool to motivate children to
learn. Montessori students learn to collaborate rather than to compete against each other to meet external standards set
by an adult. In Montessori the learner competes only against himself and quickly becomes unafraid to make mistakes. Each
child can take pleasure from being able to share his knowledge and ability to help his classmates.
Ana Pickering Executive Officer Montessori Association of NZ PO Box 2305, Stoke, Nelson, NZ www.montessori.org.nz