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Dr. Maria Montessori (pronounced MON tuh SORE ee) placed a tremendous value on teaching children human relations and conflict resolution skills, nonviolence, leadership training and the ability to work together in cooperative teams, while communicating clearly. "Peace education is as vital an element of our curriculum as math and science," writes Tim Seldin, president, The Montessori Foundation and chair, The International Montessori Council.
Tomorrow’s Child (Fall, 2001), a magazine for Montessori families, focused on the way that Montessori students worldwide are taught that "peace begins with me." The issue further shared stories from Montessori schools around the world on how they incorporate peacemaking into their curriculum.
Paul Clement Czaja, head of the Elementary Workshop in Wilmington, Deleware, shares a “Montessori primer.” He reflects on how Maria Montessori left a thriving, lucrative medical career in Rome to become an "impoverished, itinerant educator of young children." She actually became one of the foremost educational reformers of the century, single handedly taking on the system of mass education and advocating the needs of indvidual children.
Montessori observed that children lose their individual identity when grouped in large masses of same-aged children, pushed to study the same topic as everyone else, at everyone else's pace. Montessori experiemented with and "formalized learning environments in which children could be grouped within developmental age spans, as they are naturally found within a family or neighborhood." In this model "communities of learners" are formed, in which older students mentor younger students and a caring dynamic is formed.
Montessori learning is so successful, claims Czaja, because "it knows how to make learning fit each child so very well." Even when the learning work is hard and full of concentration, and much mental energy exerted, it feels good... it feels like play.
Montessori discovered that children have an innate love of learning. Eager to explore their environment and uncover its secrets, children are capable of intense concentration on individual work and cooperate well with others in group learning.
Under the guidance of a trained teacher, children in a Montessori classroom learn by making discoveries with the materials, cultivating concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning. In a Montessori setting, children develop a strong sense of respect for themselves, for others, and for their environment.
The classroom is divided into four main areas: practical life, sensorial, math, and language. Parts of each room are also devoted to art, science and geography. The classroom is scaled to the size of the children and arranged with materials and activities that are enticing and enjoyable.
Non-competitive design helps build a strong sense of personal value as well as respect for others; each child feels the joy that comes naturally from mastering a skill, and learns not for the sake of approval by teachers or peers or domination over others, but for the love of learning itself.
Montessori children of all ages work and play together - older children teach younger ones, allowing each child to advance at her own pace without being compared to others. Multi-culturalism and the celebration of diversity are embedded into the self-directed curriculum.
Montessori schools are found worldwide, serving children from birth through adolescence. In the United States, there are more than 4,000 private Montessori schools and more than 200 public schools with Montessori-styled programs.