Who Was Dr. Maria Montessori?

As a child, I attended Montessori school. Even though it was only in the early years of my education, this revolutionary method laid the foundation for the manner in which I continue to learn and to teach to this day. Here’s a little about Dr. Maria Montessori, which initially appeared on my first website for The International Academy of Matsumoto:

The Montessori Method is named after Dr. Maria Montessori, one of the most influential and innovative educators of the 20th century (1870-1952). Maria Montessori had an educational background based in scientific study. First pursuing a study in the all-male fields of math and engineering, she received a Doctor of Medicine degree in 1896 — the first female in Italy to ever achieve this status. Dr. Montessori’s early work focused on the children of the asylums in Rome. Through her work there, Dr. Montessori recognized the children’s unique capacity for learning, and became a passionate advocate for them.

Because of her success with the children in the asylums, Dr. Montessori was appointed by the Minister of Education in Rome to run a school for what were then called “deficient” children. These children came from the schools of Rome and were the mentally disabled children from Rome’s asylums. Dr. Montessori used the scientific method in order to develop the means for teaching these children. She spent much of her time during each day observing the characteristics of the children. At night, she would write out her notes, analyze them, and make didactic materials for use in her classroom. The following day she would test these new materials at the school. Again she would use her skills of observation to decipher which materials and which lessons appealed to the nature of the children. The children in Dr. Montessori’s first school, despite their disabilities, tested at the same academic level as the children in the traditional schools of Rome.

Rather than simply resting on her laurels at the academic success of her students, Dr. Montessori wondered what was lacking in Rome’s schools that would allow children of seemingly lesser abilities to test at the same level as those who were assumed to be more intellectually gifted children from the city. Her first school, Casa dei Bambini, allowed her to discover the answer to this question. Located in a poor housing project in Rome, Dr. Montessori was given charge of the small children under 6 who did not yet go to school, primarily in order to prevent them from ruining the building while their parents were away at work. Dr. Montessori eagerly consented to the position of caretaker for these 60 latch-key children. Within two years, her discoveries regarding the natural learning tendencies of young children were known all over the world.

Dr. Montessori continued to use the scientific method to develop a means not only for educating young children, but also for educating elementary aged children and adolescents, as well. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times.


In an upcoming post, I’ll talk a little bit more about why Dr. Montessori is seen as such a revolutionary educator, how science is proving her theories to be true, and how we incorporate her methods into our work in our home and in Our Kitchen Classroom.