Dr. Maria Montessori (31 August 1870 – 6 May 1952) was born in Italy. She began her professional life not as an educator but as a doctor of medicine. After extensive experience in private practice, hospital work and research, she undertook further studies in education, philosophy, psychology and anthropology as a basis for her growing commitment to education. At the age of 37 she took responsibility for a group of unsupervised children in the San Lorenzo district of Rome - founding her first Children's House (Casa dei Bambini).
Her unique approach to these children led to surprising results. She observed that when previously unruly children were provided with experiences which corresponded closely to their stage of development, they easily became absorbed in purposeful activities. This is an excerpt from a talk given by Dr. Montessori in 1942.
"...What happened more than thirty years ago now will always remain a mystery to me. I have tried since then to understand what took place in those children. I brought them some of the materials which had been used for our work in experimental psychology, the items which we use today as sensorial material and materials for the exercises of practical life. I merely wanted to study the children's reactions. I asked the woman in charge not to interfere with them in any way as otherwise I would not be able to observe them.
They were left alone and little by little the children began to work with concentration and the transformation they underwent, was noticeable. From timid and wild as they were before, the children became sociable and communicative. Their personalities grew and, strange though it may seem, they showed extraordinary understanding, activity, vivacity and confidence. They were happy and joyous.
You must realise that what happened was something so great and so stirring that its importance could never be sufficiently recognised. It is not possible that it came because of my method, for at the time my method did not yet exist. This is the clearest proof that it was a revelation that emanated from the children themselves.
My educational method has grown from these as well as from many other revelations, given by the children. All the details included in the method, have come from the efforts to follow the child.......
Anyone who wants to follow my method must understand that he should not honour me but follow the child as his leader."
Data for the timeline at the top of this page was as researched by Romana Schneider and Gerard Leonar and is provided courtesy of the North American Montessori Teachers’ Association (NAMTA)