Education should no longer be mostly imparting of knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities.” Maria Montessori

Dr Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952), physician, anthropologist and pedagogue, studied children of all racial, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds for over fifty years. Her intense scientific observation of the human being from birth to maturity allowed her to distill a body of philosophical, psychological and pedagogical principles. These, together with a vast range of auto-didactic materials, came to be known as the Montessori Method of Education.

unnamedMaria Montessori recognised that children learn best by doing and that happy self-motivated learners form positive images of themselves as confident, successful people.

The Montessori approach is holistic and aims to develop the whole child.

Dr Montessori was a true pioneer of child-centred education. Her innovative classroom practices and ideas have had a profound influence on the education of young children all over the world.

Soon after her medical career began, Dr Montessori became involved in the Women’s Rights movement. She became known for her high levels of competency in treating patients, but also for the respect she showed to patients from all social classes. In 1897, Dr Montessori join a research programme at the psychiatric clinic of the University of Rome, as a volunteer. This work initiated a deep interest in the needs of children with learning disabilities. In particular, the work of Jean-Marc Izard and Edouard Séguin.

In 1901 Montessori began her own studies of education philosophy and anthropology, lecturing and teaching students. In this period, the development of Rome meant that children were left at home as their parents worked. The number of children needing a guide and role model presented Maria with an opportunity to work with children with normal development and push her ideas into the mainstream. Dr Montessori opening her Casa dei Bambini in Rome, in1907 bringing some of the educational materials she had developed at the Orthophrenic School.

Dr. Montessori put many different activities and other materials into the children’s environment but kept only those that engaged them. What she came to realise was that children who were placed in an environment where activities were designed to support their natural development had the power to educate themselves. By 1909 Dr Montessori gave her first training course in her new approach to around 100 students. Her notes from this period provided the material for her first book published that same year in Italy, appearing in translation in the United States in 1912 as The Montessori Method, and later translated into 20 languages.

A period of great expansion in the Montessori approach now followed. Montessori societies, training programmes and schools sprang to life all over the world, and a period of travel with public speaking and lecturing occupied Dr Montessori, much of it in America, but also in the UK and throughout Europe.

In the time of the rise of fascism in Europe, Montessori schools were closed by Nazis and both books and effigies were burned. In 1939, Maria and her son Mario moved to India to lecture, initially intending to travel for only three months, the trip lasted seven years. In India, Maria Montessori trained over a thousand Indian Teachers. Returning to Europe, Maria addressed UNESCO in 1947 with the theme of Education and Peace and ultimately receiving her nomination for Nobel Peace Prize in 1949.

Maria Montessori died in 1952, in the company of her son Mario, to whom she bequeathed the legacy of her work.