Learn More About Maria Montessori, Founder of Montessori Schools

Maria Montessori

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Maria Montessori (August 31, 1870–May 6, 1952) was a pioneering educator whose philosophy and approach remain fresh and modern one hundred years after her work began. In particular, her work resonates with parents who seek to stimulate children through creative activity and exploration in all its forms. Children educated in Montessori Schools know who they are as people. They are confident, at ease with themselves, and interact on a high social plane with peers and adults. Montessori students are naturally curious about their surroundings and eager to explore.

Fast Facts: Maria Montessori

  • Known For: Devising the Montessori Method and founding Montessori Schools
  • Born: Aug. 31, 1870 in Chiaravalle, Italy
  • Died: May 6, 1952 in Noordwijk, the Netherlands
  • Published Works: "Montessori Method" (1916) and "The Absorbent Mind" (1949)
  • Honors: Nobel Peace Prize nominations in 1949, 1950, and 1951

Early Adulthood

An extraordinarily gifted person with the scholarly bent of a Madame Curie and the compassionate soul of a Mother Teresa, Dr. Maria Montessori was ahead of her time. She became Italy's first female doctor when she graduated in 1896. Initially, she took care of children's bodies and their physical ailments and diseases. Then her natural intellectual curiosity led to an exploration of children's minds and how they learn. She believed that environment was a major factor in child development.

Professional Life

Appointed Professor of Anthropology at the University of Rome in 1904, Montessori represented Italy at two international women's conferences: Berlin in 1896 and London in 1900. She amazed the world of education with her glass classroom at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco in 1915, which allowed people to observe the classroom. In 1922 she was appointed Inspector of Schools in Italy. She lost that position when she refused to have her young charges take the fascist oath as the dictator Mussolini required.

Travels to America

Montessori visited the U.S. in 1913 and impressed Alexander Graham Bell who founded the Montessori Education Association in his Washington, D.C. home. Her American friends included Helen Keller and Thomas Edison. She also conducted training sessions and addressed the NEA and the International Kindergarten Union.

Training Her Followers

Montessori was a teacher of teachers. She wrote and lectured unceasingly. She opened a research institute in Spain in 1917 and conducted training courses in London in 1919. She founded training centers in the Netherlands in 1938 and taught her methodology in India in 1939. She established centers in The Netherlands (1938) and England (1947). An ardent pacifist, Montessori escaped harm during the turbulent 1920s and 1930s by advancing her educational mission in the face of hostilities.

Educational Philosophy

Montessori was profoundly influenced by Friedrich Froebel, the inventor of kindergarten, and by Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, who believed children learned through activity. She also drew inspiration from Itard, Seguin and Rousseau. She enhanced their approaches by adding her own belief that we must follow the child. One does not teach children, but rather creates a nurturing climate in which children can teach themselves through creative activity and exploration.

Methodology

Montessori wrote over a dozen books.The most well known are "Montessori Method" and "The Absorbent Mind." She taught that placing children in a stimulating environment will encourage learning. She saw the traditional teacher as a "keeper of the environment" who was there to facilitate the children's self-conducted learning process. 

Legacy

The Montessori Method got its start with the opening of the original Casa Dei Bambini in the slum district of Rome known as San Lorenzo. Montessori took fifty deprived ghetto children and awakened them to life's excitement and possibilities. Within months people came from near and far to see her in action and to learn her strategies. She founded the Association Montessori Internationale in 1929 so that her teachings and educational philosophy would flourish in perpetuity.

Montessori Schools have spread throughout the world. What Montessori started as a scientific investigation has flourished as a monumental humanitarian and pedagogical endeavor. After her death in 1952, two members of her family continued her work. Her son directed the AMI until his death in 1982. Her granddaughter has been active as Secretary-General of the AMI.

Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski.