Maria Montessori (1870-1952)
Born in Chiaravalle in the Province of Ancona in 1870, Maria Montessori was the first woman to practice medicine in Italy. Having graduated from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Rome in 1896 as a physician, Dr. Montessori was familiar with young children and became interested in their growth and learning.
Through careful and exhaustive scrutiny, noticing that the children spontaneously chose and worked with the learning materials she provided, she realized that children construct their own personalities and that they have a preference for the manner in which they learn. She also realized that certain characteristics of the mind change as the child develops. Montessori discovered that by offering a learning environment created uniquely for and adapted to the psychological characteristics of the child at each stage of development, learning not only comes more easily but is more spontaneous and exciting.
Her approach to education stemmed from a solid grounding in biology, psychiatry and anthropology. She studied children of all races and cultures in many countries, soon seeing the universal human development playing out before her.
Maria Montessori opened her first Casa dei Bambini (Children's House) in one of the very poorest areas in Rome - Quartiere di San Lorenzo.
"It was January 6th (1907), when the first school was opened for small, normal children of between three and six years of age. I cannot say on my methods, for these did not yet exist. But in the school that was opened my method was shortly to come into being. On that day there was nothing to be seen but about fifty wretchedly poor children, rough and shy in manner, many of them crying, almost all the children of illiterate parents, who had been entrusted to my care"... "They were tearful, frightened children, so shy that it was impossible to get them to speak; their faces were expressionless, with bewildered eyes as though they had never seen anything in their lives."... "It would be interesting to know the original circumstances that enabled these children to undergo such an extraordinary transformation, or rather, that brought about the appearance of new children, whose souls revealed themselves with such radiance as to spread a light through the whole world."
- Dr. Maria Montessori
Indeed it was as though this radiance had been caught in a stream of consciousness, for a mere six months after the opening of the Casa dei Bambini, people from all walks of life and from every continent came to see Maria Montessori's miracle children.
In 1909 she gave her first Montessori course, expecting to have only Italian teachers as students. To her amazement people attended from many different countries.
Maria Montessori was a scientist, and as a good scientist, she was earth-bound and highly spiritual in her pursuit of truth. She studied medicine, specializing in psychiatry and anthropology. She was also an outstanding mathematician. Although she would never have considered being a teacher, she studied educational methods for many years and continued her observations throughout her life, widening and deepening her understanding until her death in 1952.