Who Was Maria Montessori?

“In the words of the child – I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”

— Dr. Maria Montessori

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.

The Montessori Method

The Montessori Method is a proven and well-established educational approach that is fundamentally different from traditional teaching methods. It uses a child-centred approach to help children develop to their full potential, by providing them with an environment prepared for self-directed learning coupled with personal guidance from specially trained teachers.

How Children Learn

Children have a natural tendency to work. From birth to age six, they are sensorial explorers, constructing their intellects by absorbing every aspect of their environment, their language and their culture with all five senses. Then from age six to twelve, they become conceptual explorers. They develop their powers of abstraction and imagination, and apply their knowledge to discover and expand their worlds further. The Montessori Method works by taking advantage of the unique sensitivities and capacities at each stage of development.

The Prepared Environment

The Montessori classroom provides a prepared environment where children are given the opportunity to respond to their natural tendency to work. The learning materials are specifically designed to help them explore their world and develop essential cognitive skills. Children work freely at their own pace, and in the process develop self-confidence, inner discipline and a joy of learning, free from peer competition. The mixed-age setting also encourages children to develop their personalities socially and intellectually at their own pace.

The Montessori Teacher

The Montessori teacher plays a supportive but important role in the classroom. The teacher observes, guides and encourages children on a one-to-one basis. This is not done randomly as it might appear to the occasional visitor. Knowing how to observe constructively, and when and how to intervene is a special skill that the Montessori teacher has acquired through vigorous training. Where needed, the teacher would intervene enough to help the child along, but not so much as to stifle the child’s innate passion to explore on his/her own. Naturally, a younger child would need more guidance, and as the child develops less guidance would be needed.

For more information on The Montessori Method, read or listen to Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook by Maria Montessori.

Montessori Method vs. Traditional Method

Notable Alumni

“The Montessori educational approach might be the surest route to joining the creative elite.”

— Peter Sims in The Montessori Mafia, Wall Street Journal

Montessori is a proven and well-established educational approach that has been practised worldwide for a century. It has been credited with producing a number of well-known innovators (see The Montessori Mafia on Wall Street Journal and Montessori Builds Innovators on Harvard Business Review).
Here are but a few of the notable Montessori graduates:

  • Princes William, Harry, and George of the British Royal Family
  • Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com
  • Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google.com
  • Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia.com
  • Anne Frank, author of Diary of Anne Frank