A sneak peek into the woman behind it all – Dr. Maria Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori is the founder of the Montessori theory that we here at Healthy Beginnings Montessori House hold so dear.  Let us learn more about this amazing woman who was a trendsetter over 150 years ago and continues to make a significant impact in children’s lives all around the world.

Maria Montessori was born on August 31, 1870 in Chiaravalle, Italy. Her parents were Alessandro Montessori and Renilde Stoppani. She initially lived in Florence and then moved to Rome, where she did most of her schooling. She was enrolled in an all boys technical school, with hopes of becoming an engineer. She soon had a change of heart and decided to pursue medicine which was totally against cultural norms at that time. She was highly discouraged by others to pursue a career in medicine and was also met with hostility & harassment from some medical students and professors because of her gender.

She went through great struggles including working alone on the dissections of the cadavers, after hours to complete requirements of medical school. Eventually she graduated from the University of Rome, as a doctor of medicine in 1896. She began studying and researching children experiencing some form of cognitive delay, disability or illness. She then spoke and published articles on that topic, eventually leading up to becoming an advocate for women’s rights and education for developmentally challenged children.

When Maria Montessori was working as a voluntary assistant in the University of Rome’s psychiatric clinic, she visited asylums there which gave her an opportunity to observe children with mental disabilities. This is the basic foundation to her future educational work, which we now call as the Montessori education.

She was very fascinated by the studies and research of the physicians and educators in the 19th century like Itard and Sequin, who heavily influenced her work. She later went on to name some materials she created after them.

1st Montessori school

The 1st Montessori environment was created on Jan 6, 1907 in San Lorenzo, Rome by Dr. Maria Montessori. There were about 50 children on the first day, between the ages of 2 or 3 and 6 or 7. These were children of the construction workers and other daily wage earning workers, that nobody really cared much about. She described the children that came to the school as undernourished, dirty and uneducated & said she was amazed by their innate ability to learn. Dr. Montessori found an older woman to assist her to watch the children. These children had no toys to play with.

Initially, the classroom was equipped with a teacher’s table, a blackboard, small stove, small chairs and group tables for the children and a locked cabinet filled with materials that Dr. Montessori had developed at the Orthophrenic school.

In this first classroom, she observed behaviors in children which is the basis of the Montessori system of Education. Children had deep attention and concentration, repeated activities and a deep sense of order. Given a choice, the children gravitated to more ‘real life’ purposeful activities than to toys. They also didn’t seem to be interested in external rewards. Their motivation seemed to be internal and spontaneous.

She replaced the heavy furniture with light weight child sized tables and chairs, neutral color shelves and included many purposeful activities for children like sewing clothes, washing floor, food preparation etc. These tasks helped children become more independent and later became a hallmark of the Montessori philosophy that remains evident to this day.

Growth of the Montessori system of Education

Dr. Montessori combined her knowledge of medicine, scientific studies of the brain and child development, experiences of working in the psychiatric clinic and observation of children in her care at San Lorenzo to create a prepared environment to help meet the needs of the child for them to grow and reach their full potential. Within 6 years of opening her first school, there were numerous teacher training sites and Montessori schools on 5 continents. Her 1st book, “The Montessori Method” had been translated into 10 languages.

Though some originally believed her theories were too radical, the social and education reforms of the 1960’s helped pave way for it to become more popular and develop in the U.S and many other countries.The ‘Whole child approach’ backed by scientific research makes the Montessori method very attractive to parents.

She strongly believed that “What the hand does, the mind remembers”. All Montessori materials were created with natural materials and are aesthetically appealing to the child. They provide hands on learning opportunities for the children, which helps them internalize and cement the knowledge.

Dr. Montessori went to write many books, gave speeches and lectures, provided training to many people around the world to become a “Montessori guide”. According to the Montessori philosophy, children have the natural desire to learn and the ‘adult’ should watch upon them and observe them to create a prepared environment for them.

She later went on and founded the International organization called AMI(American Montessori Internationale), which was managed by her son, Maria Montesano Montessori for a long time. This organization currently works on upholding the integrity and authenticity of her philosophy and educational method.

Montessori’s Famous Quotes

“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed”

“One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child”

“Establishing lasting peace is the work of education, all politics can do is keep us out of war”

“Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.Let us treat them with all the kindness which we would wish to help develop in them”

“Free the child’s potential and you will transform him into the world”

“The child making use of all that he finds around him, shapes himself for the future”.

“The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence”.

“The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge”.

“Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment”

“The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence”

“The first essential for the child’s development is concentration”

“The child has a mind able to absorb knowledge. He has the power to teach himself”.

“Whoever touches the life of the child touches the most sensitive point of a whole, which has roots in the most distant past and climbs toward the infinite future”

“When children come into contact with nature, they reveal their strength”

Books authored by Dr. Maria Montessori

She wrote some amazing books that serve as a great resource for parents, educators, caregivers and anyone who wants to learn more about the Montessori method of Education.

Some of the books are as follows:

The Absorbent mind

The Montessori method

The Secret of Childhood

The Discovery of the child

Spontaneous activity in Education

Dr. Montessori’s own handbook

The Child in the Family

Education for a New World

To Educate the Human Potential

…….and so much more.

Resources

Want to learn more about Dr. Montessori and her contributions, check out these great websites mentioned below.

https://montessori-ami.org/

https://amshq.org/

http://montessori-namta.org/

https://montessori-mint.org/

https://livingmontessorinow.com/about-montessori/montessori-resources/

https://www.montessori.org/

http://www.michaelolaf.net/maria.html

https://www.montessoridaoshi.com/single-post/2019/03/30/Teacher-Talk-Misconceptions-and-the-Elevator-Speech

Maria Montessori, the trail blazer, revolutionary thinker who changed the course of Education for generations to come ….

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