Maria Montessori - A Pioneer in Education

Oggi giorno una buona educazione e' fondamentale, ed una laurea e' ormai un requisito base nel mondo del lavoro - ma - ancora piu' importante e' il modo in cui gli adulti di domani vengono formati ed accompagnati nella loro formazione ben prima del college. Se e' vero - e lo e'- che una buona educazione e' fondamentale ..perche' non iniziare sin dal principio?

"Il nostro obbiettivo non e' affatto far imparare al bambino tramite ripetizioni forzate, bensi' toccare la sua immaginazione ed entusiasmare il suo instinto interiore"
- Maria Montessori

A little over 100 years ago, in 1907, a group of disadvantaged children from the San Lorenzo section of Rome attended Casa dei Bambini, a school established based on the learning abilities of children. The school provided a comfortable environment, allowing children to learn at their own pace with an assortment of self-teaching materials -- puzzles, building blocks, geometric forms, and other interactive materials -- that they chose based on their interests.

The concept, now known as the Montessori Method, was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first woman to become a medical doctor in Italy. Her teaching method was based on her observations of how children learn -- not by words, but from experiences -- and the role of teacher as one who supports and guides instead of enforcing.

Born in 1870 in Chiaravalle (Ancona, The Marches), Maria Montessori was an eager learner, excelling in schoolwork and taking on leadership roles. Maria's mother was considered very progressive -- she was well educated and an advent reader -- but Maria's father was more traditional in his thinking.

At 13, Maria enrolled in a technical school and after graduating with high honors, in 1886, she entered Regio Istituto Tecnico di Roma (now Istituto Istruzione Statale Superiore "Leonardo da Vinci"), where she studied mathematics, natural sciences, and modern languages with plans to become an engineer. During her studies, she decided to become a medical doctor, and after graduating in 1890, she applied to the medical program at the University of Rome.

The University did not allow women to enter the medical program, so Maria studied physics, mathematics, and natural sciences. With her mother's support, but her father's disapproval, Maria earned a diploma that allowed her to study medicine, and, in 1892, she was accepted into the University of Rome Medical School. Four years later, her thesis so impressed the all-male review board, she was awarded a Doctor of Medicine degree.

Shortly after receiving her degree, Dr. Montessori was appointed surgical assistant at Santo Spirito Hospital, where she had been a medical assistant during her studies; and in 1897, she became part of the University staff. She continued her studies, and part of her medical duties including observing mentally handicapped children at the nearby asylum. Her observations led to an interest in human behavior and she accepted a position as professor of anthropology at the University.

During this time, Dr. Montessori was becoming well known as a trailblazer in women's rights, equal pay, and ending child labor; and she was a guest speaker at several women's conferences in Europe. After two years as a professor of anthropology, Dr. Montessori left the University to open Casa dei Bambini. The "home" was established as a learning center with its focus on the ability of each child to learn at his or her own pace. It proved so successful, that within months, educators throughout the world were requesting her teaching methods, and in 1909, the first Montessori training course was held in Italy.

In 1911, Anne George, a teacher from a private school in Chicago, traveled to Italy to attend a training session by Dr. Montessori. She became the first American teacher to use Dr. Montessori's teaching methods and wrote about her experiences in an article published in McClure's Magazine in 1912. The article brought a wider degree of American interest in Dr. Montessori's methods, and the first Montessori school opened in Tarrytown, New York, that same year.

In 1913, at the urging of Anne George, Samuel McClure (publisher of McClure's Magazine), and Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Graham Bell -- all founders of the Montessori American Committee -- Dr. Montessori visited America and spoke at Carnegie Hall. By then, over 100 schools were using Dr. Montessori's methods and the Committee was reestablished as the Montessori Education Association. Two years later, Dr. Montessori returned to America to exhibit a glass-house schoolroom in San Francisco, where an audience could observe her teaching methods.

Although her teaching methods were being criticized by some as too feminine and too liberal, throughout the next 10 years, Dr. Montessori's methods were acclaimed worldwide -- more schools used her teaching concepts, she established training centers in several countries and she was appointed inspector of schools in Italy. In 1929, to protect her teaching principles, she established the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) with her son, Mario.

With the onset of war, in 1934, her political beliefs caused her to leave Italy. She lived in Spain, the Netherlands, India, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and England and returned to the Netherlands after the war, where she died in 1952. Dr. Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949, 1950, and 1951.

While her legacy as a pioneer in education lives on, her name was never trademarked. Today, any school or educational organization can use Montessori in its name. The Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) has a branch in the United States, the AMI/USA ( that lists the schools dedicated to the educational principles developed by Dr. Montessori.

Janice Therese Mancuso is the author of Con Amore, a culinary novel; and founder of Thirty-One Days of Italians, an educational program to promote Italian and Italian American history, culture, and heritage. For more information visit,, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..