Born in 1870 in Chiaravalle, Italy, Maria Montessori graduated from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Rome in 1896, and was the first woman to practice medicine in Italy. As a physician, Dr. Montessori began working with young children and observed their capacity for learning and their intrinsic needs. She discovered that the characteristics at each stage of human development are unique and that the foundation of the whole personality is laid during the early years of life.
In 1907, Dr. Montessori opened the first Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) in Rome. Initially, Montessori put a range of different activities and specially-designed materials in the children’s environment, but ultimately kept only those that engaged them. What Dr. Montessori came to realize was that children who were placed in an environment where activities were designed to support their natural development had the power to educate themselves.
Gradually, Dr. Montessori designed a series of materials that are still used in Montessori schools around the world. Along with the materials, her observations led her to develop theories on how children learn best. Many of her “discoveries” are well-accepted in early childhood education today, but at the time she established the first Casa dei Bambini, the notion of giving young children not only respect as autonomous individuals, but the freedom to choose their educational activities was nothing short of revolutionary. Dr. Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949, 1950 and 1951. She died on May 6, 1952, in Noordwijk aan Zee, Netherlands. Today, Dr. Montessori’s teaching method of “following the child” is used all over the globe.