Montessori Baby

The author, trained as a Montessori primary teacher (AMI), documents and analyzes her efforts to raise a "Montessori" baby.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Who was Maria Montessori?

In her lifetime, Maria Montessori came to believe that the development of the child was the key to social progress. She thought that if we could support the natural path of his development, he would reach what Maslow called "self-actualization." In her books and speeches, she emphasized a direct link between education and societal progress, peace, and prosperity.

Born in Italy in 1870, Maria Montessori defied traditional roles at an early age. At age 13, she attended a boys' technical school and later went on to be the first woman to study medicine in Rome. Finding it difficult to practice even upon graduating at the top of her class, Maria accepted a position working with children in a psychiatric clinic. Feeling a great sense of compassion for these children - who had no toys and were not educated - she began what was to be a long career as researcher. She discovered, much to the surprise of those around her, that these children were very capable learners. In fact, after her work with them, they scored as well as many "normal" children on Italian standardized tests.

Her work at the asylum prompted her to return to Rome to study psychology and philosophy. She was made a professor of anthropology at the University of Rome, but later left this position and her medical practice to assist and observe sixty children in the San Lorenzo district of Rome.

There, she discovered what became the foundation of her system of education: Children teach themselves. She offered them a variety of materials, gave lessons, and observed. The results were astonishing; these young children, most ages 2-5, formed a settled and productive community, learned to read and write with ease and delight, and enjoyed many of the tasks that adults dread - cleaning their environment, gardening, cooking, sewing.

Montessori's work became well-known across the globe. Alexander Graham Bell and his wife founded the Montessori Education Association here in the States and her "glass house" schoolroom at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco attracted world-wide attention. She was invited to open a research institute in Spain, and in 1919 she began a series of teacher training courses in London. She later became the inspector of schools in Italy, but left the post because of her opposition to Mussolini's fascism. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times - in 1949, 1950, and 1951.

When Montessori died, she left behind the Association Montessori Internationale, an organization dedicated to continuing her work. She also left a significant impact on the world of education and philosophy. For all those who believe that learning need not be drudgery, that the child can be his own teacher, and that education can and should be a vehicle for social change and self-fulfillment, Maria Montessori has given a significant starting-place for the actualization of these beliefs.


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