Happy birthday Maria Montessori!

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Maria Montessori (August 31, 1870—May 6, 1952) was an Italian educator and physician. She is best known for developing the Montessori movement in early childhood education, which placed autonomy at the forefront of pedagogy.

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Montessori was born in Chiaravalle, Italy. Her parents were well-educated and financially stable. When her family moved to Rome when Montessori was 14, she attended classes at a boys' technical institute. There, she excelled in math and science. This kind of transgression of gender norms was common for Montessori, and would continue to be a theme throughout her life and career. (Image source)

When she got older, she decided to attend the University of Rome School of Medicine, against her father's wishes. She graduated in 1896 with high honors and became the first female doctor in Italy.

It was while working in pediatrics at her alma mater that she first discovered her interest in child development. She treated poor children who would come in for free clinics, and she noted that intelligence was an intrinsic trait, not based on any socio-economic status or access to resources. She began working with mentally disabled children, visiting asylums around Rome.

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In 1898, she spoke at the First Pedagogical Conference of Turin, advocating for special classes for mentally disabled children and for specific training for teachers of those children. She was later appointed Councillor of the National League for the Protection of Retarded Children.

In 1900, she became director of the Orthophrenic School for developmentally disabled children. She used her position there as an opportunity for research. She studied her students' abilities in unconventional ways, testing the theories of 19th-century physicians and educators Jean Marc Gaspard Itard and Edouard Seguin, whom had greatly influenced her. She saw improvement in her students' development and toured internationally to speak about her work. (Image source)

Between 1901 and 1906, she took up classes in philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and pedagogy.

Soon, she was offered the opportunity to test her methods on children who had developed normally. She opened the Casa de Bambini, with 50-60 children from low-income families. There, the children engaged in day-to-day activities, such as sweeping, gardening, self-grooming, care of pets, and cooking. She made sure furniture was light-weight and that materials were accessible to the children. This "hands off" approach became the hallmark of her methods. The basis for her methods was the belief that given autonomy, children would become motivated on their own to gain a deeper understanding of the world.

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Montessori spent the rest of her career spreading her findings and opening Montessori schools around the world. By 1925, there were more than 1,000 in the United States. But eventually, the movement went out of fashion. By the onset of World War II, Montessori was forced to flee to India, where she developed a program called Education for Peace. The Montessori movement saw a resurgence during the 1960s.

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Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Sunday, 31 August 2014
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