Maria Tecla Artemisia Montessori (August 31, 1870 – May 6, 1952) was an Italian physician and educator best known for the philosophy of education that bears her name, and her writing on scientific pedagogy. At an early age, Montessori broke gender barriers and expectations when she enrolled in classes at an all-boys technical school, with hopes of becoming an engineer. She soon had a change of heart and began medical school at the University of Rome, where she graduated – with honors – in 1896. Her educational method is still in use today in many public and private schools throughout the world.
Maria Montessori Theory:
Dr. Maria Montessori discovered the studies of Jean Itard and Edouard Seguin. They were two French doctors who believed in the education of deviated children. Maria Montessori shared the conviction that medicine was not the answer, but rather education. She shared this idea at an 1899 pedagogical congress. As a result she became the directress of an Orthophrenic clinic (school for the mentally ill) in 1899-1901. Dr. Maria Montessori worked tirelessly observing children, analyzing results and developing new materials. Her knowledge of children mostly originated form this 2 years of closely observing children.
Montessori’s work with these children was so successful that her children eventually passed a public examination given to ‘normal children’. It bothered her “how these normal children in ordinary schools could have been equalled in intelligence by her ill students.”
In 1901 she gave up her work in the clinic and studied philosophical education and pedagogical pathology. She was also a lecturer in the University of Rome in 1904. At this period she also continued her study of Itard and Seguin’s work. In a lecture she talked about schools which had two main points. One was that teachers should help rather than judge. She believed the teacher should be there to direct, guide and help children to learn with the attitude of love and acceptance. Secondly, she believed that true mental work is not exhausting but gives nourishment for the soul. Montessori believed in the ‘secret of childhood’ that all are born with potentials and the adult should help that potential. The adult is there to create the environment to stimulate the child and fulfil their needs.
Maria Montessori School:
In 1906, there opened a housing project in the district of San Lorenzo, a slum area. In Montessori’s desire to work with normal children she was given the task of taking care of the young children of this area. The parents of this area were not able to take care of their young as they had to work during the day. Maria Montessori was given a room to take care of these children. She equipped the room with child sized tables, chairs, armchairs and materials similar to those she used in her work with the mentally ill children. She was given an assistant who had no teaching experience, which she appreciated as she tried her new methods for which a background in education would have hindered. She did not give her assistant limitations, but only showed her how to present the materials. This opened in January 1906.
In this room Maria Montessori observed children and formed her principles. She observed child concentrating on graded wooden cylinders with such concentration that efforts to distract her were useless. And when the child had finished she seemed rested and happy. The children’s ability for deep concentration was phenomenal. She also observed the child’s need for repetition which fulfilled a child’s need. She then decided to give children the liberty to be able to accomplish their task.
Maria Montessori also observed that children had a great sense of order. Children put things back to where it belonged. Maria Montessori respected this and allowed them to do it by placing the materials in an open cupboard rather than locked cupboards as it was initially done. This paved the way for the freedom of choice for the child to choose their work. When Montessori gave a lesson on blowing the nose she received great cheer from the children. Children are always being rebuked about keeping their nose clean but no one has calmly taught them how to do it. This made her realize that even small children had a sense on personal dignity. Montessori always emphasized the respect for even the youngest child.
After all these observations and changes over the 12 months, in January 1907 “Casa dei Bambini” (Children’s House) started – as a classroom that we see in Montessori schools today. The fame of Maria Montessori, her children’s house and method quickly spread. Many visitors even form overseas were coming to observe these children. The Casa dei Bambini classrooms were getting attention form educators who were amazed and astonished at what the children could do.
In 1909, Maria Montessori wrote “The Method of Scientific Pedagogy as Applied to Infant Education and the Children’s Houses”.
“Free choice is one of the highest of all the mental processes.”
The Montessori Movement:
As the fame of Maria Montessori and her method grew Montessori was plunged into the responsibility to further teach others of her method. She saw it as a duty on behalf of all the children in the world as a way to promote their rights and liberation. She left lecturing at the university and supported herself by training teachers and royalties form her books. In Rome a Montessori society was started called ‘Opera Montessori’ and other similar movements began in Europe and America.
In 1914 Montessori went to America. She was welcomed by Thomas Edison and an American Montessori Society was formed with Alexander Graham Bell as its president.
“I beg the dear all powerful children to unite with me for the building of peace in Man and in the World.”