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Maria Montessori- the woman who revolutionized the education systems of the world

Goran Blazeski

It is not enough for the teacher to love the child. The teacher must first love and understand the universe. The teacher must prepare himself and truly work at it

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori is known for developing the Montessori system of education, named after her. The Montessori system is a child-centered educational approach based on scientific observations of children from birth to adulthood. The developed Montessori system is today synonymous with pre-school education.

She was born on August 31st, 1870, in Chiaravalle, Italy, to Renilde Stoppani and Alessandro Montessori. In 1875 her family moved to Rome where young Maria entered a public elementary school next year. In a time when the traditional expectations for women were nothing more than becoming a housewife, Montessori had other plans.

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori

At first, Montessori had aspirations to become an engineer, but after she graduated secondary school despite her father’s resistance she was determined to become a physician. She became the first woman to attend medical school and in July 1896 she was the first woman to become a physician in Italy.

Only two months after she received a Doctorate of Medicine Dr. Montessori became involved in the Women’s Rights movement serving as a delegate for Italy at the International Congress for Women’s Rights in Berlin, Germany.

Children working on the phonogram moveable alphabet at a Montessori school

Children working on the phonogram moveable alphabet at a Montessori school

When she came back in Italy she started working as an assistant doctor at the Psychiatric Clinic at the University of Rome where she became interested in the needs of children with learning disabilities.

Working with disabled and socially deprived children, she developed her unique method of education based on the works of Jean Itard and Edouard Seguin, who had experimented with the capabilities of disabled children and created physical and sensory activities to developmental processes.

A Montessori classroom in the United States  Photo Credit

A Montessori classroom in the United States  Photo Credit

At the time there was nothing similar to the Montessori approach of teaching disabled children. Instead of using the traditional teaching methods like reading and reciting her concept was to teach the children to experience the world by using the five senses. She worked very hard and soon was able to imply her methods to children that didn’t suffer from any disabilities.

This result inspired her to found the first Casa dei Bambini, or “Children’s House”. Her unique approach was developed through intense scientific observation of children from many ethnic, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds from birth to maturity.

The Scarborough School at the Edward Harden Mansion in Sleepy Hollow, NY, listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the site of the first American Montessori school in 1911  Photo Credit

The Scarborough School at the Edward Harden Mansion in Sleepy Hollow, NY, listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the site of the first American Montessori school in 1911  Photo Credit

Dr. Montessori wrote: “The most important period of life is not the period of University studies but the period from birth to age six”. Today, it is commonly accepted that the early years are the most important years in a child’s life. During the prenatal period and the first four years of life, the child develops 50-60 % of the intelligence and another 30% between the age of 4 and 8.

She gave her first training course in her new approach to around 100 students by 1909 and even published her first book. By 1910 Montessori schools were acclaimed worldwide.

Italian 1000 Lire banknote representing Maria Montessori Photo Credit

Italian 1000 Lire banknote representing Maria Montessori Photo Credit

When Mussolini came to power in Italy he closed all Montessori schools and she was forced to leave Italy. She went to Spain and then moved to Holland.

Read another story from us: Margaret Sanger: the woman who led the birth control movement

In 1947 she went to India, where she developed a program called Education for Peace. There, she trained over a thousand Indian Teachers. Maria Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times (1949, 1950 and 1951). She died on May 6th, 1952, in Noordwijk Aan Zee, Netherlands.