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Madam Montessori

Fifty years after her death, innovative Italian educator Maria Montessori still gets high marks

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With pinched budgets, little time for recess or music, and increased emphasis on standardized tests, these are tough times in education. But Maria Montessori’s legacy has never been more valued, even as it adapts to meet the needs of a new century. For some teachers, says Paul Epstein, head of the Chiaravalle Montessori School in Evanston, Illinois, “the materials have become the method. But you can do Montessori with a bucket of sticks and stones or any set of objects if you know the principles of learning.” Epstein’s middle school students don’t play with blocks. Instead, they’re doing something Maria never imagined, but doubtless would like. Last year, they ran the school’s snack bar, a hands-on task designed to help them with skills they will need as adults: common sense and time management. Says Epstein with a smile: “They’re learning to be entrepreneurs.”

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