Maria Montessori was born in 1870 in the Ancona province of Italy. Attending the University of Rome, she became the first woman in Italy to receive a medical degree. Shortly after joining with the University Psychiatric department, she gained interest in the education of children with mental retardation. She gradually came to believe that children with mental disabilities had a capacity for learning beyond what experts believed at the time.
In 1901, Dr. Montessori was appointed the director of the Orthophrenic School of Rome. The school was used as anasylum for children with mental retardation. Montessori borrowed from the teachings of educators who themselves were interested in the education of children with disabilities, physical and mental. With this, she provided children with mental stimulation and meaningful activities which later provided a basis or increase in self-esteem. The success of these methods brought about wide spread attention when handicapped adolescents exposed to these methods passed sixth grade Italian public school exams.
Montessori believed that children of normal intelligence would benefit even more effectively with exposure to these methods. In 1907, she opened the first Montessori School in aslum district of Rome. She based her educational philosophy on providing children the freedom to choose from a variety of activities in specially prepared environments with only guidance from a trained director. She stressed that the classroom leaders were called directors as their primary goal was to direct the children’s activities in advance of their development. Observers came from around the world to witness the progress made by Montessori’s students.
The success of the Children’s House spawned more Montessori schools and teacher training programs in Europe and the United States. Montessori fled racist rule and fled to Barcelona, Spain in 1934, where she remained until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. In 1936 she established a teacher training center in Laren, near Amsterdam. In 1939 she relocated to India and (then) Ceylon where she continued to found more schools and training centers. Her concern with education for peace intensified and she was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. In 1947, she returned to her work in the Netherlands.
Dr. Montessori was a devote Roman Catholic, and in that, strived to bring her philosophies into religious teaching. She believed that in education lay the key to world peace. She authored several well known books throughout her life including:
- Il metodo della pedagogia scientifica applicato all’educazione infantile nelle case dei bambini (1909; The Montessori Method, 1912);
- Antropologia pedagogica (1911; Pedagogical Anthropology, 1913); Mente del bambino (1949; The Absorbent Mind, 1949); and
- Il bambino in famiglia (1956; The Child in the Family, 1970).
Information for this article from Montessori, Maria, Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000