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Maria MontessoriMaria Montessori

developer of the theory that children will learn much more readily if allowed to explore things that interest them rather than what adults believe they should study

Maria Montessori was born in Chiaravalle, Italy, on August 31, 1870; her family moved to Rome in 1875. An exceptionally bright and inquisitive child, Maria learned easily, was a natural leader, and could hold her own with adults in both willingness and intellectual matters. She graduated from technical school in 1886, with score of 137 out of 150, and then attended Regio Instituto Tecnico Leonardo da Vinci from 1886 to 1890. At the Institute, she studied modern languages and natural sciences, but by the time she graduated she had decided to go into biological sciences (medicine).

Unable to get accepted into a medical school because she was a woman, Montessori decided to study physics, mathematics and natural sciences at the University of Rome instead. She passed her exams with a score of 8 out of 10 in 1892 and received her "license" to study medicine, but she was still a woman and could not enter medical school through the usual means. How she managed to get admitted to the medical school at the University of Rome is still a matter of debate, but no matter how she got accepted she presented her thesis to a board of men in 1896 and became the first woman in Italy to graduate from medical school.

Soon after graduating, Montessori was chosen to represent Italy at a woman's conference in Berlin; she also represented Italian women at London in 1900.

Montessori's first job as a doctor was as a surgical assistant at Santo Spirito. She then returned to the University to conduct research, and, in 1897, became a voluntary assistant there. One of her jobs as an assistant was to visit asylums for the insane, where she also met and cared for children who were unable to function in schools or families due to severe learning disabilities. Determined to find a way to help such children, Montessori returned to the University in 1901, this time to focus on studying the human mind rather than the body. In 1904, she accepted a job as a professor of anthropology at Rome, but she gave up that position after two years to focus on educating children.

In 1906, Montessori founded a "Children's House" in San Lorenzo, Rome, that initially catered primarily to children from disadvantaged families. Montessori believed that if children are given freedom within an environment rich in activities they will naturally choose to work rather than play, and that they will learn much more readily if allowed to explore things that interest them rather than what adults believe they should study. She instructed her teachers to guide children using motor education, sensory education, and language activities without them actually realizing they are being guided. To the surprise of many, Montessori's method was successful, and she soon dedicated her life to the Montessori Method.

Montessori made her first visit to the United State in 1913, the same year that Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel founded the Montessori Educational Association in Washington, D.C. In 1929, she founded the Association Montessori International in Amsterdam, Netherlands; she opened the Montessori Training Center in Laren, Netherlands, in 1938, and the Montessori Center in London in 1947. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949, 1950, and 1951.

Maria Montessori died in Noordwijk, Holland, on May 6, 1952. Some of the methods she developed are still used in public schools around the world, and the international network of Montessori Schools she started continues to help millions of children enjoy being educated.

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This page was last updated on February 13, 2017.