Maria Montessori was born on the 31st of August, 1870 in the town of Chiaravalle, Italy. Her father, Alessandro, was an accountant in the civil service, and her mother, Renilde Stoppani, was well educated and had a passion for reading.
Her family expected her to become a teacher and made sure she had a good education, but as her studies developed, she expressed an interest in science. She showed an independent spirit and against great prejudices towards women of that time, she eventually went to medical school and became a doctor. It was through becoming the first female doctor of medicine in Italy that she became a recognised personality.
Her first appointment/job was at a psychiatric clinic in Rome, where she encountered children who were known as ‘uneducable’. They had no sensory stimulation of any kind. When they were given food, they would throw themselves on the floor afterwards looking for crumbs and even sorting them into sizes. Montessori understood this as a distinct effort to learn about the world around them through their hands. The idea, that the path to intellectual development is through the hands, is a major theme in her methods. She was convinced that these mentally deficient children could be helped, so she travelled to London and Paris to study the work of two of her pioneers, Itard and Seguin.
Maria Montessori developed a series of equipment and a method of education which has an impact on the holistic development of the child. She advocated the importance of freedom, preparing an age appropriate environment and following the needs of each child. It is a method of education based on hands-on learning, self-directed activity and collaborative play.
Montessori took the principle ideas of ‘education of the senses’ and the ‘education of movement’ and adapted and developed them into a system that became her own. This was the start of the Montessori Method. Some of the children she taught were seen as unfit to be educated, but through her methods they learned to read and write and even passed primary exams with higher grades than the ‘’normal’’ children.
Montessori set up her own school in a tenement house in a slum clearance and re-housing programme. She called it ‘’Cassa de Bambini’’ or “Children’s House”. It was here that she was now able to apply her methods to ‘’normal’’ children. These too benefitted from her method and it was soon evident that all children were capable of learning and achieving through the Montessori Method.
Montessori was a great traveller, learning about different countries and cultures and today Montessori is worldwide and growing. Maria Montessori died in Holland in 1952.