Montessori (pronounced MON-tuh-SORE-ee)
is a comprehensive educational approach from birth
to adulthood based on the observation of children's
needs in a variety of cultures all around the world.
Beginning her work almost a century
ago, Dr. Maria Montessori
developed this educational approach based on her understanding
of children's natural learning tendencies as they
unfold in "prepared environments" for multi-age
groups (0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and 12-14).
The Montessori environment contains
specially designed, manipulative "materials for
development" that invite children to engage in
learning activities of their own individual choice.
Under the guidance of a trained teacher, children
in a Montessori classroom learn by making discoveries
with the materials, cultivating concentration, motivation,
self-discipline, and a love of learning.
the same year that Italy became a unified, free nation
one of the worlds' greatest educators, Maria Montessori
was born. She broke traditional roles between male
and female, teacher and student at a very young age.
She operated her life as though she could and would
Her father, Alessandro Montessori, was a successful
government official and a member of the bourgeois
civil service. Her mother, Renide Stoppani, was a
well educated, wealthy woman devoted to liberation
and unity of Italy. It was on this common ground that
Maria's parents met.
Due to a new position for Alessandro,
the family made, what would become, it's last move
to Rome in 1875 when Maria was five years old. The
family's move from the more provincial town of, Ancona,
to a sophisticated and cosmopolitan Rome enabled Maria
to have a better education and the use of libraries
Her parents often differed on how to
raise Maria. She was close with her father until his
death, but was clearly encouraged and supported by
her mother. Without her mother's well wishes she would
have not made the first move in her educational career
to enter technical school at the age of thirteen.
She began studies in engineering at
the Regia Scuola Tecnica Michelangelo Buovarroti.
From this experience she began to model what a school
should not be like. She also made the decision not
to continue studies in engineering. Her relatives,
friends, and father were all relieved to here that
she would veer away from such an un-ladylike discipline.
What they didn't know was that Maria
Montessori would instead go on to study medicine,
only to become the first female doctor of Italy. Although
there is some question as to Pope Leo XIII's involvement,
there is no real proof as to how or whom got Maria
accepted into the University of Rome's medical program.
In fact, she graduated with a score of 100 out of
a possible 105 and the diploma was altered to fit
her gender in 1896.
A month after her graduation her life really took
off. She was immediately chosen to represent Italy
in a Women's international congress in Berlin. On
return she was appointed to be the surgical assistant
at Santo Spirito. She was also working at the Children's
hospital and had a private practice.
In 1897 Montessori had a revelation.
"I felt that mental deficiency presented chiefly
a pedagogical, rather than mainly a medical, problem."
The children she was working with could not be treated
in the hospitals they needed to be trained in schools.
Given her new insight she began to transfer her time
towards perfecting education. She wanted to use nature
in the school in order to meet the real needs of children.
(The Montessori Method, 1912)
She developed an educational theory,
which combined ideas of scholar Froebel, anthropologist
Giuseooe Sergi, French physicians, Jean Itard and
Edouard Seguin, with methods that she had found in
medicine, education, and anthropology. In 1900 she
began to direct a small school in Rome for 'challenged'
youth. The methods she employed were both experimental
and miraculous. "We should really find the way
to teach the child how, before, before making him
execute a task." She suggested that teachers
see themselves as social engineers, she enhanced the
scientific qualities of education. (The Montessori
It was then in 1907 that Montessori
began to assert her theories and methods of pedagogy.
She began by directing a system of daycare centers
for working class children in one of Rome's worst
children entered her program as "wild and unruly".
Much to her surprise they began to respond to her
teaching methods. She always held them in the highest
regard and taught her teachers to do likewise. From
the beginning amazing things happened. Children younger
than three and four years old began to read, write,
and initiate self-respect. The Montessori method encouraged
what Maria saw as the children's innate ability to
'absorb' culture. 3...And then we saw them 'absorb'
far more than reading and writhing...it was botany,
zoology, mathematics, geography, and all with the
same ease, spontaneously, and with out getting tired."
(The Absorbent Mind)
Her methods did seem to facilitate
a more genuine, natural experience. She was often
heard saying, "I studied my children, and they
taught me how to teach them." This may seem common
for us to do today, but Montessori was the first to
view education in this manner. She pioneered other
attributes of what seems to be modern education today.
A system of Math learning materials for very young
children was developed which allowed four and five
year olds to explore their interests where otherwise
they were told they were too young. Montessori was
also the first in education to have child-sized tables
and chairs made for the students. She believed that
the learning environment was just as important as
the learning itself. Because of this belief her schools
were often peaceful, orderly places, were the children
valued their space for concentration and the process
It was uncommon to treat children with
such a high level of respect. Back then society felt
that children should be seen and not heard. "To
deny them (the children) the right to learn because
we, as adults think that they shouldn1t is illogical
and typical of the way schools have been run,"
she said at one time. Her methods completely contradicted
the educational theories and practice popular during
her day. On one occasion, "She decided to give
the children a slightly humorous lesson on how to
blow their noses. After I had shown them different
ways to use a handkerchief, I ended by indicating
how it could be done as unobtrusively as possible.
I took out my handkerchief in such a way that they
could hardly see it and blew my nose as softly as
I could. The children watched me in rapt attention,
but failed to laugh. I wondered why, but I had hardly
finished my demonstration when they broke out into
applause that resembled a long repressed ovation in
a theater. When I was on the point of leaving the
school, the children began to shout, 'Thank you, thank
you for the lesson!'"
Adults were often reprimanding kids about their running
noses, but never talking the time to teach them how
to independently take care. It's as if Montessori
knew that they dealt with this situation, and wanted
to facilitate a more human experience for the students.
On another occasion, one of her teachers was late
and the students actually crawled through the window
and got right to work. Montessori also created the
"game of silence," somewhat like meditation,
where each child was able to start the day with a
sense of peace and focus. After just a few times trying
the game, they liked it.
During the remaining years of her life,
from about 1907 to the mid-1930's, Dr. Montessori
devoted all of her time and energy to developing schools
throughout Europe and North America. She then traveled
to India and Sri Lanka, until 1947, where she trained
thousands of teachers the Montessori curriculum and
Today Montessori preschools and schools
are operated throughout the world. Parents are now
seeking Montessori programs for their child as they
finally recognize the importance of early learning,
hands-on discovery and the "sponge" period
of ages 3-5 year old. For more information, visit