Who Is Maria Montessori?
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician, educator, and innovator, acclaimed for her educational method that develops on the way children naturally learn. She opened the first Montessori school—the Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House—in Rome on January 6, 1907. After some time, she traveled the world and wrote extensively about her approach to teaching, attracting many devotees. There exists now more than 22,000 Montessori schools in approximately 110 countries worldwide.
Maria Montessori was born on August 31, 1870, in the provincial town of Chiaravalle, Italy. Her father was a financial manager for a state-run enterprise. Her mother was raised in a household that prized education. She was well-schooled and an avid reader—unusual for Italian women of that time. The same thirst for knowledge took root in young Maria, and then she immersed herself in lots of fields of study before creating the academic method that bears her name.
Starting in her early childhood years, Maria was raised in Rome, a paradise of libraries, museums, and fine schools. Montessori published a number of books, articles, and pamphlets during her lifetime, often in Italian, but sometimes first in English. According to Kramer, “the major works published before 1920 (The Montessori Method, Pedagogical Anthropology, The Advanced Montessori Method—Spontaneous Activity in Education and The Montessori Elementary Material), were written in Italian by her and translated under her supervision.” However, many of her later works were transcribed from her lectures, often in translation, and only later published in book form.
Montessori’s theory and philosophy of education and learning were initially considerably influenced by the efforts of Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, Édouard Séguin, Friedrich Fröbel, and Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, most of whom emphasized sensory exploration and manipulatives. Montessori’s initial work with mentally handicapped children, at the Orthophrenic School in 1900–1901, applied the methods of Itard and Seguin, training children in physical activities that include walking and the use of a spoon, training their senses by experiencing sights, smells, and tactile encounters, and presenting letters in tactile form. These types of activities developed into the Montessori “Sensorial” materials.
Montessori thought about her work in the Orthophrenic School and her subsequent psychological studies and research work in elementary schools as “scientific pedagogy,” a practice current in the study of learning at the time. She suggested not just observation and measurement of students, but for the growth and development of new methods which would change them. “Scientific education, therefore, was that which, while based on science, modified and improved the individual.” Further, education and learning itself should be transformed by science: “The new methods if they were run on scientific lines, ought to change completely both the school and its methods, ought to give rise to a new form of education.”Working with non-disabled children in the Casa dei Bambini in 1907, Montessori was able to develop her own pedagogy. The important elements of her educational philosophy emerged from this work, described in The Montessori Method in 1912 and in The Discovery of the Child in 1948. Her system was founded on the observation of children at liberty to act freely in an environment prepared to meet their particular needs. Montessori came to the conclusion that the children’s spontaneous activity within this environment revealed an internal program of development, and that the most suitable role of the educator was to remove obstacles to this natural development as well as provide opportunities for it to press forward and flourish.
Accordingly, the schoolroom was equipped with child-sized equipment, “practical life” activities such as sweeping and cleaning tables, and teaching components that Montessori had devised herself. Children were given freedom to choose and perform their own activities, at their own paces and following their own inclinations. In these conditions, Montessori made a number of observations which evolved into the foundation of her work. To start with, she noticed great concentration in the children and spontaneous repetition of selected activities. She also recognized a strong tendency in the children to order their personal environment, straightening tables and shelves and ordering materials. As children decided on some activities over others, Montessori refined the materials she presented to them. After a while, the children began to exhibit what she called “spontaneous discipline”.
Montessori submitted many different books, pieces, as well as pamphlets during her lifetime, often in Italian, but sometimes first in English. As reported by Kramer, “the major works published before 1920 (The Montessori Method, Pedagogical Anthropology, The Advanced Montessori Method—Spontaneous Activity in Education and The Montessori Elementary Material), were written in Italian by her and translated under her supervision.” Nevertheless, many of her later works were transcribed from her lectures, often in translation, and only later published in book form.
Maria Montessori’s major publications are listed here in order of their release date followed by significant revisions and translations.