How Maria Montessori grew
the best schools in the world

You may be familiar with the methods and extraordinary benefits of a Montessori education. You also may realize we have Dr. Maria Montessori to thank for it. But you may not realize the extraordinary lengths Dr. Montessori went to during her career to bring those principles to life for your son or daughter.

On Aug. 31, 1870,  Dr. Montessori was born into an Italian family that valued education as one of the greatest gifts you can give to a child. Her mother’s affinity for reading and learning took root in Maria from a young age, and she threw herself into studying a dizzying range of subjects with great interest.

Young Maria shattered barrier after barrier along the way. Refusing to be limited by the societal boundaries of the day, Maria worked tirelessly and, at 13 years of age, gained admittance to an all-boys engineering institute. At the time, it was unusual for a woman to pursue educational endeavors, especially in fields like engineering.

As time progressed, her interests turned towards medicine, and she became one of Italy’s first female physicians in 1896. A traditionalist, Maria’s father disapproved of her new career until he attended a lecture that freshly-graduated Dr. Montessori delivered to a group of her peers, several of whom approached him with kind comments about his remarkable daughter.

Education that works for all children

As her medical career naturally gravitated toward psychiatry, Dr. Montessori developed an interest in education and began to question the educational methods of the day, especially those involving young children with mental disabilities.

She delved into this area of study, and later advocated for educational programs for children labeled mentally disabled and emotionally disturbed. At the age of 28, she was speaking before institutions about the need to use education for social reform. She also observed these children and their disorders firsthand at an institution called the Orthophrenic School.

In 1907, Dr. Montessori was invited to open what is widely known as the first official Montessori school: a daycare in the poverty-stricken town of San Lorenzo. She called it Casa Dei Bambini, translated “A Children’s House.” Having worked with mentally disabled children for several years, Dr. Montessori saw this change as an opportunity to apply her methods and observations on mentally-abled but low-performing children.

She faced her share of naysayers who didn’t believe that her approaches would result in substantial change in the students’ progress in the classroom. She was undeterred. “I had a strange feeling which made me announce emphatically that here was the opening of an undertaking of which the whole world would one day speak,” she said at the time.

Shift from traditional classrooms

Dr. Montessori appointed the classroom with all the trappings of traditional educational institutions: desks, tables, a chalkboard and a locked supply cabinet. However, her curriculum included matters such as personal care, dressing and undressing, and taking care of one’s surroundings as well as traditional subjects.

During this time. Dr. Montessori still worked as a physician and was conducting research. When introducing new activities to the children, rather than show each student the “correct” way to proceed, she showed students the necessary materials, how to use them, and where they could be found. Then under the observation of Dr. Montessori’s assistant, the children completed each activity independently while Dr. Montessori continued her research.

Over time, Dr. Montessori began to notice the previously unruly children spending long periods of time focused intently on an independent activity. She noticed them engage in the same behavior or game over and over. She noticed that the children’s focus and engagement seemed to be heavily dependent upon the order and state of the classroom; if they couldn’t conduct their activity, they would clean or organize the space until they could. In short, she began to see children develop and practice self-discipline.

These early observations formed the foundation for the recognizable Montessori principles we’re familiar with today. As a result of those observations, Dr. Montessori changed her approach. She removed the bulky desks and heavy furniture from the classroom and replaced them with child-sized tables and chairs that the children could move themselves.

The roots of The Montessori Method

Instead of the locked supply cabinet, she displayed materials on low-hanging shelves the children could reach on their own. Finally, Dr. Montessori created open spaces in the room to encourage the children to move as they pleased between activities and lessons.

Dr. Montessori expanded her former personal care curriculum to include everyday tasks like taking care of pets, cleaning and cooking. She allowed room in this experiential curriculum to include opportunities for tactile and sensory development, such as arranging flowers, gardening, and even gymnastics.

Finally, she developed a basic routine to inform the students’ day. Not necessarily “dictate” their day, but inform it. With the routine underpinning life at the daycare, students were free to engage in the activities of the present moment without wondering what would come next or worry about running out of time before they had to move on.

When the students showed considerable achievements, which were documented in testing, more Case Dei Bambini schools followed. By 1908, five were operating in Italy — four in Rome and one in Milan.

The world takes notice of Montessori

Soon word spread that five-year-olds were reading and writing. Educators from around the world came to the school to witness the Montessori environment firsthand. In 1909, Dr. Montessori started offering a training course on her philosophy. In 1912, she published a book called “The Montessori Method,” which was listed No. 2 on the nonfiction bestsellers’ list.

Dr. Montessori’s educational principles continued to spread rapidly, taking root in dozens of countries around the world. In 1913, the first international Montessori method training course took place in Rome.

Today, the Montessori method is taught in more than 20,000 Montessori classrooms around the world and still helps our children play, learn, and live independently. In 2001, Maria Montessori International Academy opened as one of the first private schools in Indiana to use authentic Montessori educational principles and methods.

At MMIA, we’re eager to hear every student’s story and help them live confident, independent lives. Contact us to schedule a tour or consultation to determine how MMIA can best help your child reach his or her goals.

Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.”

—Dr. Maria Montessori

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For many families, a Montessori environment is unlike traditional preschool or childcare they have observed. We invite you into our home at Maria Montessori International Academy to see the difference. Contact us for a tour today!

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