Maria Montessori was a prolific and highly quotable writer. In her long and varied career as a physician, professor, intellectual, and full-time educator, she wrote for both professional and lay audiences, penning books, journal articles, newspaper articles, and editorials. In addition, many of her lectures have been transcribed and published.
Here are a few key ideas from her best-known books.
The Role of the Teacher
And so we discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment. The teacher’s task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child. [Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, translated by Claude A. Claremont]
. . . the task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility, and evil with activity, as often happens in old-time discipline . . .
A room in which all the children move about usefully, intelligently, and voluntarily, without committing any rough or rude act, would seem to me a classroom very well disciplined indeed. [Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method, translated by Anne E. George]
The instructions of the teacher consist then merely in a hint, a touch—enough to give a start to the child. The rest develops of itself. [Maria Montessori, Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, translator unknown]
A teacher, therefore, who would think that he could prepare himself for his mission through study alone would be mistaken. The first thing required of a teacher is that he be rightly disposed for his task. [Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood, translated by M. Joseph Costelloe, S.J.]
The teacher, when she begins work in our schools, must have a kind of faith that the child will reveal himself through work. [Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, translated by Claude A. Claremont]
The Child and Learning
Before elaborating any system of education, we must therefore create a favorable environment that will encourage the flowering of a child’s natural gifts. All that is needed is to remove the obstacles. And this should be the basis of, and point of departure for, all future education.
The first thing to be done, therefore, is to discover the true nature of a child and then assist him in his normal development. [Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood, translated by M. Joseph Costelloe, S.J.]
When a child is given a little leeway, he will at once shout, “I want to do it!” But in our schools, which have an environment adapted to children’s needs, they say, “Help me to do it alone.” And these words reveal their inner needs. [Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood, translated by M. Joseph Costelloe, S.J.]
What is to be particularly noted in these child conversions is a psychic cure, a return to what is normal. Actually the normal child is one who is precociously intelligent, who has learned to overcome himself and to live in peace, and who prefers a disciplined task to futile idleness. When we see a child in this light, we would more properly call his “conversion” a “normalization.” [Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood, translated by M. Joseph Costelloe, S.J.]
A child in his earliest years, when he is only two or a little more, is capable of tremendous achievements simply through his unconscious power of absorption, though he is himself still immobile. After the age of three he is able to acquire a great number of concepts through his own efforts in exploring his surroundings. In this period he lays hold of things through his own activity and assimilates them into his mind. [Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child, translated by M. Joseph Costelloe, S.J.]
Here is an essential principal of education: to teach details is to bring confusion; to establish the relationship between things is to bring knowledge. [Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence, translator unknown]
Education and Social Change
Since it has been seen to be necessary to give so much to the child, let us give him a vision of the whole universe. The universe is an imposing reality and an answer to all questions. We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity. This idea helps the mind of the child to become fixed, to stop wandering in an aimless quest for knowledge. He is satisfied, having found the universal centre of himself with all things. [Maria Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential, translator unknown]
The laws governing the universe can be made interesting and wonderful to the child, more interesting even that things in themselves, and he begins to ask: What am I? What is the task of man in this wonderful universe? Do we merely live here for ourselves, or is there something more for us to do? Why do we struggle and fight? What is good and evil? Where will it all end? [Maria Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential, translator unknown]
Education today, in this particular social period, is assuming truly unlimited importance. And the increased emphasis on its practical value can be summed up in one sentence: education is the best weapon for peace. [Maria Montessori, Education and Peace, translated by Helen R. Lane]
An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking: it involves the spiritual development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to times in which they live. [Maria Montessori, Education and Peace, translated by Helen R. Lane]
On Her Contribution to Education
“It is not true,” says Dr. Montessori, “that I invented what is called the Montessori Method. I have studied the child, I have taken what the child has given me and expressed it, and that is what is called the Montessori Method.” [What You Should Know About Your Child: Based on Lectures Delivered by Maria Montessori, transcribed and translated by Gnana Prakasam]
This book of methods compiled by one person alone, must be followed by many others. It is my hope that, starting from the individual study of the child educated with our method, other educators will set forth the results of their experiments. These are the pedagogical books which await us in the future. [Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method, translated by Anne E. George]
Maria Montessori, Revolutionary
Today, however, those things which occupy us in the field of education are the interests of humanity at large and of civilization, and before such great forces we can recognize only one country—the entire world. [Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method, translated by Anne E. George]
How can we speak of Democracy or Freedom when from the very beginning of life we mould the child to undergo tyranny, to obey a dictator? How can we expect democracy when we have reared slaves? Real freedom begins at the beginning of life, not at the adult stage. These people who have been diminished in their powers, made short-sighted, devitalized by mental fatigue, whose bodies have become distorted, whose wills have been broken by elders who say: “your will must disappear and mine prevail!”—how can we expect them, when school-life is finished, to accept and use the rights of freedom? [Maria Montessori, Education for a New World, translator unknown]
Nowadays nobody’s life is safe. An absurd war may be declared in which all men—young and old, women and children—are in mortal danger. Civilians are bombed and people have to take refuge in underground shelters just as primitive men took refuge in caves to defend themselves against wild beasts. The supply of food may be cut off and millions may die of famine and plague. Do we not see men in rags or even naked, freezing to death, families separated and torn apart, children abandoned and roaming about in wild hordes?
This we see, not only among those vanquished in war, but everywhere. Humanity itself is vanquished and enslaved—but why enslaved? Because all men are slaves, the victors as well as the vanquished, insecure, frightened, suspicious and hostile, compelled to defend themselves by means of spying and brigandage, using and fostering immorality as a means of defense . . .
It may seem that we have drifted rather far from our original subject—Education. This digression, however, must open up the new road along which we now have to go. In the same way in which we help the patients in a hospital to recover their health and continue to live so we must now help humanity to save itself. We must be nurses in a hospital, as vast as the world itself. [Maria Montessori, The Formation of Man, translated by A. M. Joosten]