"Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed."
Dr. Maria Montessori
A Woman Before Her Time
Maria Montessori was, in many ways, ahead of her time. Born in Italy, on August 31, 1870, she became one of the first female physicians in Italy upon her graduation from medical school in 1896.
Through clinical observations in her medical practice she was able to analyze how children learn and concluded that they create themselves from what they find in their environment. Shifting her focus from the body to the mind, she returned to the university to study psychology and philosophy.
In 1906 she gave up both her university chair and her medical practice to work with a group of sixty young children in the slums of the San Lorenzo district of Rome. It was there that she founded the first Casa dei Bambini, or "Children's House." What ultimately became the Montessori method of education developed there, based upon 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. Every piece of equipment, every exercise, every method Montessori developed was based on what she observed children to do "naturally," by themselves, unassisted by adults.
Children teach themselves. This simple but profound truth inspired Montessori's lifelong pursuit of educational reform, methodology, psychology, teaching, and teacher training--all based on her dedication to furthering the self-creating process of the child. Only recently has science caught up with the Observations Montessori made over 100 years ago. This article from Science magazine details some of the research.
In 1913, Montessori made her first visit to the United States. Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel founded the Montessori Educational Association at their Washington, DC, home the same year. Thomas Edison and Helen Keller also supported Dr. Montessori's philosophy of education.
In 1915, she attracted world attention with her "glass house" schoolroom exhibit at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco. While in the United States, she also conducted a teacher training course and addressed the annual conventions of both the National Education Association and the International Kindergarten Union. The committee that brought her to San Francisco included Margaret Wilson, the daughter of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.
In 1922, Montessori was appointed a government inspector of schools in her native Italy. Because of her opposition to Mussolini's fascism, she was forced to leave Italy in 1934. She traveled to Barcelona, Spain, and was rescued by a British cruiser in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War. She opened the Montessori Training Centre in Laren, Netherlands, in 1938, and founded a series of teacher training courses in India in 1939.
In 1940, when India entered World War II, she and her son, Mario Montessori, were interned as enemy aliens, but she was still permitted to conduct training courses. Later, she founded the Montessori Center in London (1947). Because of her experiences with war, peace became a guiding principle of her method. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times--in 1949, 1950, and 1951.
Maria Montessori died in Noordwijk, Holland, on May 6, 1952
The Montessori Method
“From the child itself he will learn how to perfect himself as an educator.”
― Maria Montessori
The Montessori Method of education, developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, is a child-centered approach to learning that is based on scientific observations of child development from birth to adulthood. It is a view of the child as one who is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning when the child is presented with a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment. The Montessori approach values the child’s spirit and their whole development—physical, social, emotional, cognitive. Montessori schools help students develop their unique talents and potentials.
Individual Montessori school philosophies and practices may vary, however, there are core values that should be shared throughout the Montessori community. They include:
Children are intrinsically motivated;
Children become self-disciplined when they are empowered to choose learning activities specifically designed for the developmental and learning needs;
Each classroom is a respectful environment of mixed age learners;
The classrooms are carefully prepared environments with curriculum and materials;
Teachers are educated and certified as Montessori teachers;
Parents understand and support the school; they are partners.
With over 4,000 Montessori schools in North America, and thousands more found worldwide, the Montessori Method is a philosophy of teaching and learning that is embraced by families and students from a great diversity of backgrounds.
1896: Maria graduates to great public acclaim from the University of Rome School of Medicine. She is the first woman in Italy to receive a medical degree. Maria also studied anthropology, biology and psychiatry. As an early feminist she represents Italy at the 1896 Women’s Conference in Berlin where, among other things, she is a strong advocate for equal pay.
1896-1907: Dr. Montessori’s work brings her into close contact with children. During this period, the Italian Minister of Education appoints her as the Director of the Scuola Ortofrenica. This institution was dedicated to the care and education of youngsters that were considered “cognitively challenged”. Through the development of her Montessori method, many of these 8-year-old students are able to pass standard testing with above-average scores.
1907: Dr. Montessori opens Casa dei Bambini or “Children’s House,” for children ages 3 to 6 years in one of the poorest neighborhoods in San Lorenzo, Italy.
1913: Dr. Montessori makes her first visit to the United States.; Montessori Educational Association is founded by Alexander Graham Bell and his wife, Mabel.
1915: Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco: Dr. Montessori receives international attention with her “glass house” schoolroom exhibit. During this visit, Dr. Montessori leads a teacher training course while in the states.
1922: Italian government asks Dr. Montessori to return to become a government inspector of schools.
1929: Dr. Montessori founds the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) in Amsterdam, Netherlands, with her son, Mario, to ensure preservation of her educational principles.
1939: Dr. Montessori and her son travel to India to give a series of teacher training courses. Both are detained in India during World War II.
1947: Dr. Montessori starts a training center in London and continues to spend time in India.
1949: Dr. Montessori is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
1950: Dr. Montessori is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
1951: Dr. Montessori is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
1952: Dr. Montessori died in the Netherlands assured that her legacy would be continued through the work of the Association Montessori Internationale.