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Maria Montessori was born in the village of Charaville, Italy on August 31, 1870. She was born to a well respected family and was expected to grow up to fulfill the traditional role of the Italian woman. When she was three years old, the family moved to Rome where she received her education. Upon graduating from high school, Montessori pursued an advanced degree at the University of Rome and became the first woman physician to graduate in Italy. Her interests drew her to work with children, mainly those who were disadvantaged and had special needs.

Montessori became an anthropologist. Through her work at the Orthophrenic Clinic, her decisions about working with children were made up by observing them first. She was not trained as an educator, so her decisions were based upon watching what children did and what they were attracted to. In 1898, Dr. Montessori addressed the Congress for Teachers. She spoke of an anthropological approach to childrenÕs development. This led to teacher training at The State Orthophrenic School. Dr. Montessori lectured on the function of the school teacher, Whose task it was not to judge the children. She felt it was the teachers role to help guide and enlighten something that was asleep in the student. Mental work would not exhaust the child, it would give the child nourishment. Through her observations and trial and error, she developed what became known as the Montessori Method of education. She experimented with materials that would awaken the childÕs potential. It was a radical departure In MontessoriÕs time.

A new housing project was being built in a part of Rome. The tenants of the housing project where day laborers who left their children of five years of age home alone and unsupervised. Dr. Montessori was given a room for the children in one of the buildings and named the director of it. Up to 60 children stayed there during the day. On January 6, 1907, the first Casa de Bambini, which is a ChildrenÕs House, was opened. Dr. Montessori did not place children in restricting environments, but instead designed them to reflect children. The rooms were set up like a house, with the then-revolutionary idea of child-sized furniture. Tables and chairs were child-sized and materials were placed on low shelves to be easily reached by the students. In addition, many of the skills were designed to teach children how to become more independent and to do things for themselves.

Soon after, a Casa de Bambini was opened in Barcelona. It became the first school where a religious component was added to Dr. MontessoriÕs approach. She held the first international teacher training course in Rome. It was attended by many people from all over the world. During this time around 1973, Dr. MontessoriÕs work with children moved to the United States.

In 1915, Dr. Montessori came to the USA. She went to the Pan American Exposition in San Fransisco. There, she won the only award of the exposition, which was a Montessori classroom of children working behind glass walls. After that, Dr. Montessori was invited to give a training course in London. This course was given every two years. In the early 1930Õs, all of Dr. MontessoriÕs schools were closed because she refused to use her methods of teaching to teach the English Ministers principle laws. She then moved.

While Dr. Montessori was in India, World War II broke out and she was not allowed to leave the country. People came from all parts of India to learn of her teachings and to be trained as teachers. While she was there, she developed more materials for the three to six year old child, created new materials for the six to twelve year old, and formulated new ideas about children from birth to three years old. Many of Dr. MontessoriÕs lecture in India were published as, Ã’The Absorbent MindÓ, one of the many books she wrote.

During her later years, her focus became centered around educating the children to promote the principle of peace. Dr. Montessori died at the age of 82. Her legacy has been the establishment of Montessori schools around the world, which further educates the cause of the child as a citizen of the world.

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Maria Montessori 1870-1952

Italian educator and physician.

Montessori developed a revolutionary method of early childhood education that continues to influence many school programs around the world. The first woman in Italy to earn a medical degree, Montessori was a practicing physician working with developmentally disabled children when she discovered that these children were educable—a discovery that was in direct contrast to the prevailing notion that mentally retarded children should be confined to institutions for life. Further research with nondisabled children showed that Montessori's theories were applicable across the curriculum. A well-known pacifist, Montessori believed that a link existed between world peace and proper childhood education and regularly addressed international organizations on the subject. Her work in this area led to nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949, 1950, and 1951.

Biographical Information

Montessori was born in Chiaravalle, Ancona, Italy, in 1870. She graduated from Regia Scuola Tecnica Michelangelo Buonarroti in 1886 and Regia istituto tecnico Leonardo da Vinci in 1890. The first woman ever admitted to the school of medicine at the University of Rome, in 1896 Montessori became the first woman in Italy to graduate with a medical degree. She practiced medicine from 1896 to 1910, at the same time lecturing regularly at the Regio istituto superiore di Magistero Femminile, the Scuola magistrale Ortofrenica, and the University of Rome. An early feminist, Montessori began representing Italian women at women's conferences around the world shortly after obtaining her medical degree. She also began to treat mentally retarded children. She soon came to believe that, with proper instruction, they could be successfully educated according to their individual abilities, rather than spending their entire lives committed to mental institutions, as was the standard of the time. As she further developed her theories, Montessori decided to test her method on nondisabled children. Focusing on the children of the poor, she opened her Case dei Bambini (“children's houses”) in Rome—nursery schools in which “self education” was the central approach. By 1907 Montessori's schools were considered so successful that educators around the world began to adopt her methods and open Montessori-style schools in their own countries. Montessori societies arose, and Montessori herself led congresses throughout Europe, India, and the United States to teach her method. Already an internationally respected figure, Montessori earned further acclaim in the 1930s, when she began to address organizations such as the League of Nations, the International Peace Congress, the World Fellowship of Faiths, and UNESCO about the connection between education that focused on individual social and psychological needs and the development of a society based on peace and justice. For her work in the peace movement, Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. She died in the Netherlands in 1952, while at a conference teaching her method.

Major Works

Montessori's theories about child education are most thoroughly detailed in her book Metodo della pedagogica scientifica applicata all' educazione infantile nelle case dei bambini (The Montessori Method; 1909), in which she discussed the teaching method used first at her Case dei Bambini and later at Montessori schools around the world. The Montessori method is based on the notion that the “work” of children is not to behave as small versions of adults, but to learn through the sensory exploration of their environments. Accordingly, Montessori advocated classrooms with child-sized furniture and teachers who provided the basic tools for learning and little discipline, with the goal of encouraging children to be self-guiding and self-disciplined. In 1917 and1918 Montessori published the two volume The Advanced Montessori Method, based on her further research into the subject. The Secret of Childhood (1936) is a practical guidebook to understanding the educational needs of children aimed primarily at parents. La mente del bambino (The Absorbent Mind; 1949) is a collection of lectures Montessori delivered at a conference in Ahmedabad, India, exploring her theory that children move through certain periods where they are particularly open to learning certain things. Educazione e Pace (Education and Peace; 1949) is a collection of Montessori's lectures on the “science of peace,” which held that world peace and justice were possible through education, starting at birth, aimed at fostering each individual's potential for spiritual liberation.

Critical Reception

By the time she published The Montessori Method, Montessori had become a revered figure in the field of education, and her theories are still employed at Montessori schools around the world. She was not, however, without detractors. On her first visit to the United States in 1913, she was very well received. But interest in her method diminished after a few years and was not revived until the 1960s. Some critics speculate that, in the United States, Montessori and her ideas fell victim to the then-popular eugenics movement, which held that certain qualities such as mental illness and criminality were dependent on genetic rather than environmental factors, and that undesirable traits were far more common in certain ethnic groups, particularly southern Europeans. As an Italian—and an unmarried professional woman with a child—Montessori, commentators charge, may have appeared to pose a threat to the established belief that most women, immigrants, and especially the disabled could not and should not be educated. But as attitudes evolved, the Montessori method was increasingly adopted in the United States, and, although debate over its efficacy continues, it is widely considered a valid and successful educational theory.

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