Maria Montessori (August 31, 1870 - May 6, 1952) has been variously described as an educator, scientist, physician, philosopher, feminist, and humanitarian.
She was born in Chiaravalle, Italy. Montessori was the first female Italian physician in the modern era. As such, she was given a "menial" task: to try to educate the "idiots" and the "uneducable" in Rome. She opened her first school, in Rome, on January 6, 1907.
The Montessori Method of education that she derived from this experience has subsequently been applied successfully to all children and is quite popular in many parts of the world. Despite much criticism of her method in the early 1930s-1940s her method of education has been applied and has undergone a revival.
By 1907 Montessori had established the first Casa dei Bambini, or Children's House, in Rome. By 1913, there was an intense interest in her method in North America, which later waned. (Nancy McCormick Rambusch revived the method in America by establishing the American Montessori Society in 1960.) Montessori was exiled by Mussolini to India for the duration of World War II, mostly because she refused to compromise her principles and make the children into little soldiers. Montessori lived out the remainder of her life in the Netherlands, which is now the headquarters of the AMI, or Association Montessori Internationale. She died in Noordwijk aan Zee. Her son Mario headed the A.M.I. until his death in 1982.
Aside from a new pedagogy, among the premier contributions to educational thought by Montessori are:
- instruction of children in 3-year age groups, corresponding to sensitive periods of development (example: 3-5, 6-9, and 9-12 year olds with an Erkinder Program for teens)
- children as competent beings, encouraged to make maximal decisions
- observation of the child in the environment as the basis for ongoing curriculum development (presentation of subsequent exercises for skill development and information accumulation)
- child-sized furniture and creation of a child-sized environment (microcosm) in which each can be competent to produce overall a self-running children's world
- parent participation to include basic and proper attention to health screening and hygiene as a prerequisite to schooling
- delineation of a scale of sensitive periods of development Sensitive Periods, which provide a focus for class work that is appropriate and uniquely stimulating and motivating to the child (including sensitive periods for language development, sensorial experimentation and refinement, and various levels of social interation)
- the importance of the "absorbent mind," the limitless motivation of the young child to achieve competence over her environment and to perfect her skills and understandings as they occur within each sensitive period. The phenomenon is characterized by the young child's capacity for repetition of activities within sensitive period categories (Example: exhaustive babbling as language practice leading to language competence).
- self-correcting didactic materials (some based on work of Itard and Sequin).