Maria Montessori's Legacy

Maria Montessori was a woman ahead of her time, a pioneer in early childhood education. She began her studies and received degrees in both physics and mathematics from The University of Rome and then went on to receive a medical degree. Montessori became the first woman physician in Italy in 1892 when it was unheard of for a woman to pursue such endeavors. 

After receiving a special academic prize in her first year of medical school, Montessori was then guaranteed a later position as a hospital assistant. During those years she worked in a hospital and became an expert in pediatric medicine and psychiatry. She later opened a private practice.

Montessori continued to progress in her work with children and then went on for two years to lead a teacher training in educating mentally disabled children. She had such success that she gained the attention of government officials, departments of education and health, civic leaders, prominent figures in education, psychology and anthropology.  At that time under her care , many “disabled” children went on to pass public examinations and to become as proficient in what were deemed “normal” children.

It was then in 1903 that she was commissioned by a poor district in Rome to open Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) to work with a group of 50 to 60 children with working parents. Later she would refer to her approach as a “scientific pedagogy”. Montessori created what she referred to as “the prepared environment” providing educational materials she had created at the Orthophrenic School. She did not teach the children directly but provided guidance when needed. She spent a great deal of time observing. Most of the classroom activities did not include toys but materials in personal care such as dusting, sweeping, gardening, flower arranging, cooking, caring for pets, gymnastics and even hand washing. 

After time Montessori started to notice clear defining features in the children’s activities such as strong episodes of deep concentration, activities being done with great repetition and a strong sense for order in the environment. In fact, children showed more interest in their practical activities than in the toys occasionally provided. She found that the children were unmotivated by sweets and other rewards but found genuine pleasure in what they were doing. And what were they doing? They were behaving in a spontaneous and self-disciplined manner that brought about great happiness and purpose for the children.

Furniture was created that was child-sized from tables and chairs to low shelves for easy access to the materials that interested them. Montessori believed that it was not the outer restraints that a teacher imposed on a child that helped them to develop self-discipline and autonomy, but it was by allowing them freedom of movement, of choice and of discovery that they gained the strongest sense of happiness, purpose, concentration, attention and motivation.

Montessori schools soon began to spread all over Europe, Asia, Australia and the United States as news spread of her method. Even inventor Alexander Graham Bell and his wife became proponents of the method and opened the second school in Canada in the US in 1951. Montessori also became known for her involvement in Peace Education and was nominated six times for the Nobel Peace Prize.Today there are over 8,000 children enrolled in private and public Montessori schools in the United States and thousands of others worldwide.

If interested in learning more about Maria Montessori, here are some helpful resources down below, mostly made up of her own books and a few more relevant to today’s times.

The Montessori Method
♦Doctor Montessori’s Own Handbook
♦What You Should Know About Your Child
♦The Discovery of the Child
♦The Secret of Childhood
♦Peace and Education
♦The Formation of Man
♦Education for a New World
♦To Educate the Human Potential