Maria Montessori was always a little ahead of her time. Born in the town of Chiaravalle, in the province of Ancona, Italy, in 1870, she became the first female physician to graduate from the University of Rome. In her medical practice her clinical observations led her to analyse how children learn, how they build themselves from what they find in their immediate environment. For several years she worked, wrote and spoke on their behalf.
In 1906, she accepted the challenge to work with a group of sixty underprivileged children of working parents from the slums of Rome, and founded the first 'Children's House' (Casa de Bambini). The news of the unprecedented success of her work soon spread around the world, and educators from all corners of the globe came to observe the children for themselves.
Dr Montessori was as amazed as anyone at the realised potential of these children and that "the peaceful atmosphere that pervaded the classroom as the children pursued their work was extremely touching. No one had provoked it, no one could have obtained it by external means". From those early years until her death in 1952, Dr Maria Montessori continued to develop her philosophy, techniques and materials. It was her background in medicine with its scientific methods of observation that led her to formulate the most exciting developments into the role of a new kind of education: as an aid to life. She lectured worldwide, published many books, trained teachers and established the standards of what has truly become a "Philosophy of Education".
Maria Montessori developed an educational method to implement her philosophy. Her brilliance in this respect is an important reason for the enduring and widespread impact of her work. She recognised education as a means whereby children might develop their learning dispositions, so as to eventually lead a mature and independent adulthood. She designed her educational materials to aid children in this pursuit. Maria Montessori died in Noordwijk, Holland, in 1952 but her work continues. Today there are over 40,000 Montessori teachers, training centres and schools spread on all continents.
The two main ideas that form the key components of the Montessori method are the special qualities of the environment (known as the prepared environment) and the special qualities of the teacher (known as the directress). The unique interaction of these two forces influence and shape the child in a way that, first and foremost, assists the natural development of the child's personality and at the same time promotes healthy, physical, social, emotional development as well as provide the optimum opportunities for intellectual growth.
Montessori education is based on the following principles
• Children are competent and capable.
• Children want to learn.
• Every child learns at a different pace.
• Children learn through the active exploration of their environment.
• Children absorb knowledge and this lays the foundations of knowledge for the rest of their lives.
• Children pass through a series of sensitive periods where they are able to develop particular skills and concepts more easily than at other times of their lives.