Maria Montessori: Her life and philosophy

Pioneer of a pedagogical tool that revolutionized the education system Dr. Maria Montessori was an Italian Physician whose pedagogical method revolutionized the education system for young minds. She was the first female who obtained an MD title in Italy. 

Dr. Montessori initially developed this method due to her fascination with mentally challenged children. She developed new methods and teaching techniques to facilitate mentally challenged children. Upon her success, she then developed new teaching methods and materials for normal children.

Montessori believed that education should come from within. This learning approach was first tested on slum children in the year 1907 and was titled as Montessori Method.  

The Montessori method provides children with a properly designed educational environment along with beneficial tools and techniques. 

The method was developed after Montesorri’s scientific observation of human beings from birth to death. This observation of human behavior helped her develop a system with appropriate aspects of philosophical, scientific, psychological, and pedagogical principles. Dr. Maria Montessori is considered to be one of the pioneers in the development of early childhood education. Her scientific approach changed the pre-school educational system. 

Life of Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori was born on August 31st, 1870, in a small commune called Chiaravalle, Italy to a Catholic, middle-class, and well-educated family.  Her father Alessandro 33, was an Official in the Ministry of Finance, and her mother Renilde Stoppani 25, was a well-educated, well-read woman who was also the great-niece of Italian geologist Antonio Stoppani.

During Montessori’s early childhood women in Italy did not have as much liberty of education due to conservative values and ideologies. But, Montessori from a young age broke all the norms and gender limitations that came in her way.

In 1875 due to Alessandro’s work, the Montessori family moved to Rome, and in 1876 Montessori enrolled in a state-run school called  Via di San Nicolo da Tolentino. At age 14 Montessori was attending classes in an all-boys technology institute which further developed her aptitude and her mathematical knowledge as well as her interest in sciences

Coming from a catholic family, Montessori’s loving father was at odds with her decision of breaking the conservative norms. But her mother Renilde Stoppani’s encouragement and support helped Montessori become the first female to obtain an MD title in Italy from the Sapienza Medical University in Rome in the year 1896.
Montessori has One child named Mario Montessori with Giussepe Montesano. Mario was born in the year 1898 and lived at the farm where his parents frequently visited him. Mario was unaware of his parents until the year 1914. Maria Montessori did not marry Giuseppe Montesano. 

After gaining popularity for her teaching methods Montessori went to the United States for the first time in 1913. Montessori visited the United States for the second and Last time in 1915 to participate in World’s fair Panama-Pacific Exhibition. Where she set up a classroom with glass walls for spectators to see her method of teaching, which later came to be known as the “The Glass Classroom”.

In 1939 during World War II Maria and her son Mario Montessori moved to India for safety where they stayed for 7 whole years. Montessori also met Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi during her stay in India. 

Montessori came back to Holland along with her son in 1946. She gave her last speech in London at the 9th international Montessori Congress. Dr. Maria Montessori passed away in the year 1952 in her friend Ada Pierson’s garden in Noordjwik ann Zee, Holland

Dr. Maria Montessori’s Educational background is an example of determination and hard work. She Was the first female in Italy to break gender norms and become a doctor. Here are Maria Montessori’s educational achievements from elementary school to Post Graduation. 

Early Education: 

Montessori moved to Florence with her family in the year 1873 and then moved to Rome in the year 1875. In the year 1876, she enrolled in a local state-run educational institution Via di San Nicolo da Tolentino

During her elementary school years, Montessori began to break through all the constraints that held women back. She was awarded certificates for good behavior in first grade and an award for women’s work the next year. 

Secondary Education: 

In the year 1882, Montessori enrolled in a technical institute for boys named Regia Scuola Tecnia Michelangelo Buonarroti

She studied mathematics, arithmetics, Italian, geometry, algebra, science, history, geography, and accounting at Regia Scuola Tecnia Michelangelo Buonarroti. 

From the year 1886 to 1890 Montessori continued her education in the technical institute Regio Instituto Tecnico Leonardo da Vinci with the intention of becoming an engineer. It was rare for women of that time to pursue engineering as most of them focused on classical education rather than technical education. 

In  Regio Instituto Tecnico Leonardo da Vinci she studied complicated subjects like physics, chemistry, biology, botany, zoology, history, geography, geometrics, ornate drawing, as well as two foreign languages. 

Montessori excelled in her academics and in the year 1890 graduated at the age of 20 with a degree in Physics and Mathematics. Later, Montessori had a change of heart and decided to study medicine. Thing change in the field was even more unusual for women of that time.  

University of Rome: 

Upon Montessori’s graduation from the engineering institution, Regio Instituto Tecnico Leonardo da Vinci she was persuaded by her parents to follow the career in teaching, which was considered as one of the few occupations a woman in Italy at that time could follow. 

Montessori had a change of heart and was highly motivated to pursue medicine. This decision did not sit well with her father Alessandro, who opposed this career choice and denied her entrance into medical school. 

Montessori wrote a letter to the professor of clinical medicine Guido Baccelli at the University of Rome but was discouraged to enroll. It is said that Montessori’s determination did not go to waste when Pope Leo XIII interceded on her behalf. 

In the year 1890 Montessori enrolled at the University of Rome to study natural sciences, botany, zoology, histology, experimental physics, and organic chemistry. 

After two years Montessori earned her diploma di licenza in the year 1892. With the diploma di licenza and her additional education in Italian and Latin, Montessori became eligible to enroll in the medical program of the University

Montessori’s hard work and determination made her the first woman in Italy to enter medical school. In the year 1893 Montessori entered the Faculty of Medicine. 

She faced a lot of adversities and harassment from her peers, colleagues, and professors only because she was a female. 

Due to the social norms of that time, men and women were not allowed to see a naked body together. So, Montessori had to practice all her dissection of the cadavers alone. Montessori started smoking Tobacco to mask the odor of formaldehyde.

At the end of her first year in the University Montessori excelled in her academics and overcame all the negativity and adversities. Her excellence was recognized by the university and Montessori was awarded for her academics at the end of her first year at the University of Rome.  

Montessori studied pediatrics and psychology from 1894 to 1896 and worked in the pediatric control room which help her acquire the knowledge of pediatric medicine. In 1895 she secured a position as a hospital assistant that helped her gain new knowledge and clinical experience.

 Montessori graduated from the University of Rome in the year 1896 with a Doctorate of Medicine. Her hard work paid off and made her the very first female to graduate from the University of Rome as a Doctor of Medicine. Later she was employed at the University Hospital and after that, she decided to start her own private practice. 

Career after University of Rome: 

Upon her graduation, Montessori was immediately employed at the San Giovanni Hospital which was a part of the University of Rome. 

Montessori’s personal growth and experience drove her to inspire as well as represent other women. In September of 1896 Montessori was asked to represent Italy in the International Congress of Women’s Rights that was held in Berlin, Germany.  

In her speech, Montessori addressed and developed a thesis for a social reform that argued the inequality of wages. She believed that women have the right to get equal wages like their male counterparts. 

In November of the same year, Maria was appointed In Santo Spirito Hospital as a surgical nurse. She used to work with the poor and particularly with children. As a doctor Montessori was very considerate of her patient’s needs, She always made sure that her patients were warm and well-fed. 

Montessori volunteered in a research program in a psychiatric clinic at the University of Rome. During her time in psychiatric research Montessori also had the privilege to work under Giuseppe Montesano, a famous psychiatrist. The experience as a volunteer in the research later helped Montessori with her future educational work. 

During her research, Montessori used to visit children’s asylums and deeply observed children with mental disabilities. She developed an interest in studying the works of 19th-century physicians and educators Jean Marc Gaspard and Edouard Seguin whose works later became an inspiration for Montessori. 

In 1897-98 Montessori developed a deep passion for education. She started studying the works of Rousseau, Pestalozzi, and Frobel

In 1897 Montessori spoke at the National Congress of Medicine in Turin about Juvenile delinquency. The very next year she wrote articles and spoke at the National Pedagogical Conference in favor of creating special classes in schools for mentally disabled children. Montessori also provided teacher-training instructions. In 1899 Montessori was appointed in the National League for the Protection of Retared Children

Co-director Orthophrenic schools:

Montessori later became a co-director of the orthophrenic school alongside Giuseppe Montesano. In the year 1900, the National League opened an institution for teacher training in educating mentally disabled children called Scuola Magistrale Ortofrenica. In total, 64 teachers enrolled for this program to study psychology, physiology, and anatomy of the nervous system as well as causes and characteristics of mental disabilities.

During the two years working in the orthophrenic school, Montessori developed successful methods of teaching mentally disabled children that could also be used as a pedagogical tool for normal children. 

The orthophrenic school got immediate success and garnered special attention from government officials, the department of health, and other prominent figures. 

The children for the orthophrenic were considered “uneducable” and were selected from mental asylums. These uneducable children with mental and learning disabilities were able to clear public school examinations later on.

Casa Dei Bambini: the concept of children’s house

Montessori wanted to implement her successful methods of teaching on normal children. She found an opportunity to implement her methods on normal children when she was invited to oversee and teach young children with working parents.

She started her first casa in a building for low-income families in the San Lorenzo district, Rome. Her first casa was opened on 6th January 1907, 50 to 60 children between the ages of 2 to 7 were enrolled in the first casa. 

The classroom had a blackboard, a stove, tables, armchairs, chairs, a teacher’s table, and locked cabinets for materials. 

Montessori observed behaviors in young children as well as noted phases of deep concentration and multiple repetitions of activities. 

The children were given the freedom to choose any activity they would like to participate in with no outward forces interfering with their development process. 

She noticed that children had the capability to develop a sense of self-discipline over time. The observations from the first children’s house became the basis of “The Montessori Method” which was later developed and implemented worldwide.  

The rapid growth of the Montessori method:

By 1908 there were 5 Casa Dei Bambini in Rome and 1 in Milan. The children in the schools were showing great progress in their development process. 

The Montessori method and institution caught the media’s attention which led to worldwide popularity. Within a year of media exposure, the Italian-speaking community in Switzerland decided to convert their institutions to Montessori institutions. 

In the year 1911, almost all Italian and Swiss schools adapted the Montessori method as the mode of education. 

In 1910, Dr. Maria Montessori published her book “The Montessori Method” which was translated into 20 different languages. Her book was in second place in the U.S. Bestseller List.   

Recognition of The Montessori Method:  

As soon as the Montessori method came into the media spotlight, new organizations, observers, and spectators began to visit the institutions to see the method put into action for themselves.

 In the year 1911, almost all Italian and Swiss schools adapted the Montessori method as the mode of education. By the year 1912 Montessori schools were opened in multiple European countries.

 New Montessori Societies were founded like the Montessori American Committee and The Montessori society for the United Kingdom. Other parts of the world like Spain, Paris, Australia, Argentina, Netherlands, New Zealand, China, India, Japan, Mexico, Syria, and Korea also adopted the Montessori teaching method. 

Maria Montessori’s Philosophy and Basic Ideas

  • She believed that education must aid in the complete unfolding of the child’s inner potentialities and individuality
  • Montessori did not support the reward system. She believed that material rewards and incentives are external forces that hinder the natural growing process of the child.  She believed that development should come from within.
  • She did not support collective classroom teaching. She knew the importance of individuality amongst children. She treated each child in the classroom as a separate individual and stated that every child should be helped and guided in a proper manner. 
  • Montessori believed that self-education is true education. It is important to guide and help the child rather than making the child forcefully acquire information.
  • Montessori believed that the first six years of the child’s life are the crucial period for growth and development. 
  • For Montessori, the senses are the gateway to knowledge. She pointed out that senses are most active during early childhood years. 
  • She believed that motor development and physical development play a significant role in early childhood education. 

  Here are some of her notable works :

Here is a List of Dr. Maria Montessori’s notable work that facilitated in revolutionizing the pre-school education system all around the world:

  1. The discovery of the child (1950)
  2. Education for a new world (1946)
  3. To Educate the Human potential (1946)
  4. The secret of childhood (1936)
  5. The Child, Care, and Education (1941)
  6. Reconstruction in Education (1942)
  7. The absorbent Mind (1949) 
  8. What you should know about the child (1948)
  9. The child and the Family (1923)
  10. The Montessori Method. (1909) 
  11. Spontaneous Activity in Education (1917)

The Montessori Intitutions: 

The Montessori institutions are designed for the development of Pupil’s confidence, independence, and intelligence. 

The Montessori method of education provides a structured educational environment that not only helps them learn and grow but also has effective stimuli which keep the children attentive in the classroom.

 As a multi-age-level educational system Montessori method is divided into 3 stages for different age groups: 

– 3 to 6 years old 

– 6 to 9 years old

– 9 to 13 years old 

These students sometimes also co-exist in the same classroom. The older pupils in the classroom eventually become mentors for the younger pupils and also act as helpers to the teachers. 

The Montessori curriculum includes three classes of activities: 

(1) practical-based learning

(2) sensory stimulation

(3) development of formal skills and education. 

Through this method, the child learns basic life skills pivotal for his mental and physical development. The activities include learning how to tie a shoelace, buttoning clothing, washing hands, and other basic social manners. The repetition of physical exercise and activities develops muscular and sensory coordination in pupils. The Montessori method includes language, mathematical skills as well the study of plants and animals. 

The Montessori method provides students with a vibrant, inviting, and dynamic environment in the classroom which instantly stimulates the child’s senses hence, making the child more attentive during the education process. 

The self-directed completion of activities gives children a sense of satisfaction and boosts their confidence. 

The child during the three-hour uninterrupted work cycle concentrates more, develops a desire to seek knowledge, explores new materials and apparatus, has a positive approach towards education and school. The Montessori institution provides children with holistic development

Famous Quotes By Maria Montessori: 

  • “I did not invent a method of education, I simply gave some little children a chance to live”.
  • “The goal of early education should be to activate the child’s own natural desire to learn”.
  • “The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind”. 
  • “ Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur”.
  • “ We discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being”. 
  • “The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge”.
  • “We teachers can only help the work going on, as servants wait upon a master”.  

Some Interesting facts about Maria Montessori: 

  1. Dr. Maria Montessori was the first woman in Italy who received a degree in Doctorate of Medicine. 
  2. Montessori along with her family first Moved to Florance in 1873 and then moved to Rome in 1875.
  3. Maria Montessori belonged to a Catholic family 
  4. Maria Montessori’s Mother Renilde Stoppani was the great-niece of Italian geologist Antonio Stoppani.
  5. Montessori had a son named Mario with famous  Catholic Psychiatrist Giuseppe Montesano. 
  6. Maria Montessori’s son did not know about her until 1914. 
  7. Mario Montessori along with her son Mario Montessori wrote the book Human Tendencies (1957)
  8. Montessori’s father did not support her decision of learning medicine. 
  9. Dr. Montessori was the only female student at the University of Rome and had to practice her dissections on cadavers alone. 
  10. Maria Montessori started smoking tobacco to conceal the odor of formaldehyde.
  11. Maria Montessori was one of the only females in Italy who studied and received degrees in Engineering as well as Medicine. 
  12. In the year 1912 Maria Montessori’s book “The Montessori Method” Was translated into 20 different languages and held second place in the U.S Bestseller list.
  13. Anne Goerge an American woman was one of the first hundred students taught by Montessori. In 1911, Ann opened the first Montessori school in Tarrytown, New York.
  14. In 1915, during the World fair of Panama-Pacific exhibition in San Fransisco. Montessori set up a classroom with glass walls, which came to be known as the “Glass Classroom”.
  15. During World War II Montessori left Italy and fled to India where she and Gandhi discussed world peace and children’s education.
  16. There are more than  23,000 Montessori schools in 115 countries around the globe. 
  17. Montessori was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
  18. Montessori died at Ada Pierson’s house in Noordjwik aan Zee, Holland.