Maria Montessori was born August 31, 1870 in Chiaravalle, Italy. Dr. Montessori was the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome La Sapienza Medical School, and the first female doctor in Italy. As a member of the University’s Psychiatric Clinic, she became interested in educating children with special needs and learning disabilities. In 1896 Dr. Montessori was appointed head of an institution in Italy that was devoted to the care and education of mentally handicapped children. Soon after working with these children, she had several 8 year olds take state exams, and they passed with above average scores. This success prompted Dr. Montessori to look into the effects of her teaching philosophy on children without disabilities.
“Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society”
Dr. Montessori then started a school in Rome, which opened in 1907. This school was called “Casa dei Bambini” or “Children’s House”. At this school, she focused on teaching children ways to develop their own skills at a pace they set for themselves. This is a Montessori principle known as “spontaneous self-development”. The success of this school prompted the opening of many more like it around the world, and sparked an interest in the Montessori method of education.
In the 1920’s, Mussolini exiled Dr. Montessori from Italy because she refused to compromise her principles and make children into soldiers. She lived in Spain until the Spanish Civil War in 1936, at which time she moved to the Netherlands. In 1939 she was invited to visit India, where she worked with her son, Mario Montessori, to lay a strong foundation for the Montessori Movement in India. In 1949 she left India, and returned to the Netherlands where she stayed until her death on May 6, 1952.