Who was Maria Montessori?

Dr. Maria Montessori was born in Chiaravalle, Italy. She attended engineering school in her early teens and then went to medical school to become the first woman Doctor of Medicine in 1896. During her practice, she discovered that environment was a much more important factor in early childhood development than was previously believed. She designed learning materials and observed children as they used them. These materials along with a specifically prepared environment, and trained teachers led to what is known today as the Montessori Method of education.

Her main contributions related to raising and educating children are in the following areas:

  • Preparing the most natural and life supporting environment for the child
  • Observing the child living freely in this environment
  • Continually adapting the environment in order that the child may fulfill his greatest potential — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Dr. Montessori was invited to the USA by Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and others. Dr. Montessori spoke at Carnegie Hall in 1915. She was invited to set up a classroom at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, where spectators watched twenty-one children, all new to this Montessori method, behind a glass wall for four months. The only two gold medals awarded for education went to this class, and the education of young children was altered forever.

During World War II, Dr. Montessori was forced into exile from Italy because of her anti-fascist views and lived and worked in India. Her concern with education for peace intensified and she was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Since her death, interest in Dr. Montessori’s methods has continued to spread throughout the world. Her message to those who emulated her was always to turn one’s attention to the child, to “follow the child”. It is because of this basic tenet, and the observation guidelines left by her, that Dr. Montessori’s ideas will never become obsolete.