Who is Maria Montessori?

Dr. Maria Montessori was one of the most influential pioneers in early childhood education in the 20th century. Montessori’s ideas have become known and recognized in many countries over a period of more than ninety years and yet still seems to educate students in a fresh, modern and child-centered way that allows them to be extremely successful in many ways. It is no surprise that her ideas have also been incorporated into good practice in mainstream education.

Dr. Montessori was born in Italy in 1870. Her original interest was in medicine; she was the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School and gradually became interested in education through her work as a doctor, treating children with what are known today as ‘special needs’. Because of her medical background she approached education not as an educator or a philosopher but as a scientist, studying and observing how students learn. She made the needed adjustments to the teacher and classroom to best serve each student effectively which is the model we still use today!

Dr Montessori worked with some of the poorest, highly challenged and most disadvantaged children of working parents in Rome. She used the classroom as a laboratory for developing ideas and materials which would serve future students and help them to achieve their full potential. There was nothing cold or clinical about her theories: they were tailored to the needs of the growing child but sprang from Montessori’s intense love and respect for all children. So great was the success of her Montessori Method that she traveled the world, establishing schools and lecturing about her discoveries. She wrote numerous books and many articles right up until her death in 1952 at the age of 82.

She left to the world the legacy of a method of education which combines a practical approach based on a carefully
planned learning environment with a philosophy centered on the idea of freedom for the child. All children, says Montessori, are intrinsically motivated to learn and they absorb knowledge without effort when provided with the right kind of activities at the right time in their development.

Developing the Child

Montessori saw that children held within them something wonderful and special that it could be the key to changing the world. She saw that they were inherently good and that, if allowed to develop freely, they felt connected to everything and were naturally caring to each other and the world around them. The more that she worked with the children, the more convinced she was that they had precise inner guides and that the work of adults was to help them to be all that they could be. She felt that it was the spiritual nature of children that had been forgotten and denied and that children could therefore show adults the way to return to a more meaningful, holistic way of living.

Dr. Maria Montessori’s approach to education was to observe children carefully to discover their individual needs. She was a great innovator, always aware that education needs to change as society changes.

She believed that teachers could be trained to make children confident and capable self educators prepared and equipped for the future.

The Montessori approach places emphasis on educating the whole child, covering all aspects of development – intellectual, social, physical, emotional and spiritual. Building upon children’s intrinsic desire to learn, Montessori created ideal environments full of opportunities for children to experiment and initiate their own education.

At the heart of the method are the Montessori materials, beautiful and enticing pieces of equipment which have been
carefully designed to incorporate a teaching purpose. Understanding, dexterity and skill are developed each time the child uses them.