The Montessori method is named after a real person. Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870 and was a pioneer in many ways.
1870-1896 Early Life and Studies – Montessori studied engineering specifically with math as major components of those studies, subjects in that time that were reserved for men. Coming from a family of supportive mother and a conservative father, Maria Montessori became the first woman in Italy to receive a medical degree – this was accomplished in 1896.
1896-1906 Period of Indirect Preparation – During this time Maria had many varied experiences and positions. She later related this to her philosophy of education in that the child should be offered opportunities that lead to new skills and other experiences. Montessori was on the staff of Orthrophrenic Psychiatric Hospital for “mentally deficient” children. She studied Itard and Seguin who had researched how people learn. She also studied anthropology, psychology and philosophy.
1906-1910 Discovery of the Child – Montessori was in charge of setting up day cares in the slums of Rome. The children in the San Lorenzo slum were developmentally “deprived.” They had not had any direct experiences linked to their sensitive periods of development. They were “normal” children except for their deprivations due to two working parents, lack of understanding, and being left alone all day. By careful observations, Montessori realized that children related to and reacted with their environment. In the classrooms, she began to put out materials and observed the children. Many of these materials developed daily living skills (practical life skills such as personal hygiene, food preparation, cleaning the environment ) and enhanced the child’s senses (sensorial materials).
1910-1929 Development and Expansion of the Montessori Movement – Montessori and her staff observed that children in different settings reacted to the environment in a similar way. Montessori expanded her centers all over Italy and began training programs for the adults in the environments. The Montessori elementary program was developed during this period.
1929-1939 Consolidation of Ideas and Practice – In 1929, Maria established Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) to support her training programs and the development of new materials for classrooms. In 1936 AMI was permanently established in Holland.
1939-1946 Articulation of Philosophy – This was a time of upheaval but also a period of deep development for Montessori. She was asked by Mussolini to train the children of Italy in his doctrine and when she refused, she left her homeland. She moved to Spain and Holland and eventually moved to India where she remained during W.W.II. She realized what war did to the children and began to develop her philosophy for the spiritual view of life.
1946-1952 Developed the Cause of the Child – Her Education for Peace was developed during this time. She viewed the child as the hope of mankind, the builder of culture and took great care to articulate this philosophy to others. Maria Montessori died in 1952 but her son Mario took over her work. In 1960 the American Montessori Society (AMS) was established in the United States.
1952 to present Growth of Montessori Educational Philosophy – The Montessori philosophy continues to grow and thrive throughout the United States and the world. There are many organizations that support the Montessori philosophy – often a point of confusion for the parent searching for a program for their child (see future articles of What to Look for in Montessori).
For more information on Maria Montessori and her life’s work, please refer to these books.
Rita Kramer, “Maria Montessori : A Biography“, 1976.
E.M. Standing, “Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work“, 1957.
Barbara O’Connor, “Mammolina : A Story About Maria Montessori“, (Creative Minds Biography)