Who Was Maria Montessori?
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educational theorist in the early twentieth century whose observations of children revolutionized the field of early childhood education. One of the first female physicians in Italy, Montessori had few opportunities to practice medicine and found herself working in large institutions with individuals with intellectual impairments. Montessori applied the same principles of the scientific method to her practice with young children in the institution, experimenting with materials, language and learning structures until she identified a strategy through which the institutionalized children were able to pass and excel on state achievement tests. Her curiosity led her to apply these same strategies with typically developing children although she remained limited in the environments open to her work. In 1906, Montessori convinced the owner of a tenement house in San Lorenzo, Rome, to give her the use of one of the apartments in the building in exchange for her promise to tend to the children of working families during the day. The first Montessori school was born.
Over the next thirty years, Montessori continued to refine her model, lecturing on children’s development and learning around the world. Often received as a radical, Montessori nonetheless inspired a generation of teachers to create classrooms of their own, following her original principles and, over time, leading to the establishment of thousands of Montessori schools across the US and around the world. Today, the Montessori Method has been incorporated into schools of all kinds: private and public, small and large, and expanded to serve children as young as infancy and through the high school years.