Through scientific observation and experimentation, Dr. Maria Montessori discovered that each child is born with an innate ability and desire to learn. This discovery came at a time when the conventional wisdom portrayed the child as a “tabula rosa,” a blank slate waiting to be written upon. Instead, Montessori asserted that it is the teacher who must pay rapt attention to her students. By observing how the individual children responded to various lessons and materials, she could determine what experiences would aid the child in fulfillment of his or her potential. Montessori’s revolutionary approach of “following the child” is the root of our philosophy at Greenspring Montessori.
Born in 1870, Dr. Montessori was one of the first women in Italy to receive a medical degree. Dr. Montessori worked in the fields of psychiatry, education and anthropology. She planted the seeds for her career at the age of 13 when, against the wishes of her father, she attended a boys’ technical school. After seven years of engineering, she began pre-med; in 1896 she became a physician and developed a great interest in the treatment of children.
At the age of 37, Dr. Montessori worked with children with severe special needs at the University of Rome’s psychiatric clinic. It was here that she began to develop techniques and materials that enabled these ”hopelessly deficient” children to learn. Based on her early successes, she later opened the first “Casa dei Bambini” (or “Children’s House”) in 1907. Working with over 50 impoverished children from the San Lorenzo slum on the outskirts of Rome, she utilized her scientific background to hone the methods and materials that would become respected around the world.
News of the unprecedented success of the Casa dei Bambini soon spread. In 1911, the Montessori method was officially adopted in public schools in Italy and Switzerland. An international training institute was formed to train other educators in Montessori’s methodology. Alexander Graham Bell formed the Montessori American Committee in 1914, bringing this method to the United States. Montessori was asked to create a “glass classroom” at as display at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.
Exiled from Italy by Mussolini because she would not pledge loyalty to fascism, Montessori spent several years in Spain and India, where she continued to write, lecture, and train teachers in the Montessori Method. A passionate advocate for peace education, Dr. Montessori was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Since her death in 1952, interest in Dr. Montessori’s methods has continued to spread throughout the world. Her message to those who emulated her was always to “follow the child.”
“Education should no longer be mostly imparting knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentials.” – Dr. Maria Montessori