Who is Maria Montessori?

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Supposing I said there was a planet without schools or teachers, study was unknown, and yet the inhabitants – doing nothing but living and walking about – came to know all things, to carry in their minds the whole of learning: would you not think I was romancing? Well, just this, which seems so fanciful as to be nothing but the invention of a fertile imagination, is a reality. It is the child’s way of learning. This is the path he follows. He learns everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so passes little from the unconscious to the conscious, treading always in the paths of joy and love. –Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori was born in Italy in1870.  Always a bit ahead of her time, Maria became the first woman in Italy to earn a medical degree…knowledge which she later relied upon heavily when working in the fields of psychiatry, education and anthropology.

Dr. Montessori believed in the innate potential of all children and opposed the idea that children are tabla rasas (blank slates) waiting to be written upon. In her work at the University of Rome psychiatric clinic, she grew into a passionate advocate of children with special needs…ones who were culturally cast out from the rest of society…as she discovered that all children are reachable when adults are willing to adapt their methods to meet the needs of the children.

In 1907 Maria began her most important work among “normal” children on the outskirts of Rome in a slum area called San Lorenzo.  Maria took charge of fifty impoverished children who lived together in a home called Casa dei Bambini (House of Children).  Over time, Maria’s ways of working with the children of Casa dei Bambini attracted the attention of Italian educators, who began to call upon her as a consultant to the greater Italian education system.  Dr. Montessori’s methodology gained significant influence in Italy and within a short period of time spread beyond the Italian border to many nations. Today, Montessori is an educational option available around the globe.

Dr. Montessori’s message to those who apply her educational methods was always to turn one’s attention to the child, to “follow the child”. The child’s choice, practical work, care of others and the environment, and the high levels of concentration reached when work is respected and not interrupted, reveal a human being that is superior not only academically, but emotionally and spiritually, a child who cares deeply about other people and the world, and who works to discover a unique and individual way to contribute. This is the essence of real “Montessori” work today.