History of Montessori
Born on August 31, 1870 in Chiaravalle, Italy, Dr. Maria Montessori established herself at an early age as a thinker, scientist, and trailblazer. At 14 she attended classes at a boys’ technical institute, where she honed her aptitude and interest in the sciences. In 1896 she went on to graduate with high honors from the medical school at the University of Rome, becoming the first female physician in Italy. Her chosen specialty was pediatrics and psychiatry.
Dr. Montessori began her professional research of children through observing developmentally disabled children, and she was highly influenced by the French physicians Gaspard and Seguin. Through her observations she began to develop her own theories of children’s learning and development, forming her philosophy based on scientific observation, pedagogical experimentation, and a deep respect for the child. She “declared two principles as the foundation of the Montessori pedagogy: the universal characteristics of the human child, and the child as a unique, unrepeatable, respectable, and admirable individual be unconditionally accepted as one of life’s most marvelous expressions.” (Association Montessori Internationale)
Dr. Montessori’s first school, the Casa de Bambini, opened in 1907 and served underprivileged children living in the tenements of Rome. The school was furnished with child-sized furniture and materials of her own design. As she worked with the children she observed and modified, modified and observed the behaviors and children’s interactions with the environment and materials. Soon the children were displaying self-discipline, preferring authentic materials to toys, and working with profound concentration and joy. Children demonstrated a natural affinity for order, took care of their environment, and were intrinsically motivated to learn. Based upon her observations, she concluded that the children almost effortlessly absorbed knowledge from their surroundings and were tireless in their interactions with the materials. Word of the Casa de Bambini and the work that the children were doing soon spread, drawing international interest. Gradually Dr. Montessori’s work and pedagogy spread throughout Europe and made its way to America.
By 1925 more than 1,000 Montessori schools had opened in America. Gradually, however, interest in the Montessori approach diminished and by 1940 only a few Montessori schools remained. During World War II Dr. Montessori and her son, Mario Montessori, were forced to flee to India and it was here that she developed the Education for Peace program. She was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize and is noted for her efforts to foster a more peaceful and harmonious world.
Since the 1960’s there has been a resurgence of interest in Montessori education. Today there are Montessori classrooms throughout the U.S. and world, including in many U.S. public schools, teaching generations of children to be independent, motivated, curious, and joyful learners.