Biography of Maria Montessori - Pioneer of the Montessori System of Education
"Education of a young child does not aim at preparing him for school, but for life." - Dr.Maria Montessori
Dr. Maria Montessori was born on 13th August 1870 in the town of Chiaravalle. Her father Alessandro was an accountant in the civil service. Her mother was Renilde Stoppani, who was well educated and an avid reader.
In 1875 Maria Montessori joined the local state school on the Via di San Nicola de Tolentino. She was a brilliant student and was very successful in her educational endeavours. She further continued her studies at the Regio Instituto Tecnico Leonardo da Vinci.
The first woman to qualify as a doctor in Italy
Maria Montessori graduated with flying colors. Her parents tried to persuade her to take up a teaching job which was open to women in those days. Maria had other plans; she wanted to become a doctor. Her father was totally opposed to this idea mainly because being a doctor was an all-male profession.
In 1890 with the help of Pope Leo XIII recommendation she was able to get admission to the University of Rome to study Physics, Maths, and Natural Sciences. She completed this course and received her diploma two years after completion of this course.
With the Diploma and along with the help of Pope Leo XIII she was able to get an entry to study the Faculty of Medicine. She became the first woman to enter medical school in Italy.
She was a brilliant student and won many scholarships. She also took private tuitions and used the money from the tuitions to pay for her medical studies.
At the medical school, life was not easy for Dr.Maria Montessori. She had to face the scorns and derisions of her male colleagues. Maria did not let this deter her in any way. She was very dedicated and put her heart and soul into her studies. On 10th July 1986, she became the first woman to qualify as a doctor in Italy.
Endeavors of Maria Montessori
She was then employed by San Giovanni Hospital that was attached to the University. Later that year she represented Italy at the International Congress for Women’s Rights in Berlin. In her speech, she actively spoke for the rights of women. She argued that women should be paid on par with men.
In November 1986 Maria Montessori was appointed as a surgical assistant at Santo Spirito Hospital in Rome. She worked with the poor and especially with children. She was an excellent doctor; she looked after the patients with tender care. Maria diagnosed and treated their illnesses and made sure that they were fed properly.
In 1897 she voluntarily joined a research programmed at the psychiatric clinic attached to the University of Rome. Here she worked with Giuseppe Montesano, with whom she fell in love. As a part of her work, she visited Rome asylums for the insane to treat patients who needed her help. She also visited children’s shelters and found that the children were in need of guidance in the right direction for their overall development and growth.
Dr.Maria Montessori extensively read and researched about mentally retarded children. She studied the works of Jean Marc Gaspard Itard and Edouard Seguin. Seguin was against regimented schools of those times and stressed on the fact that each child should be respected and understood for their individuality. He created various apparatus and equipment to help develop the child’s sensory perceptions and motor skills.
In the year 1898, She addressed the National Congress in Turin and then the National Pedagogical Congress about the lack of provisions for mentally challenged and disturbed children that lead to their delinquency.
Later that year Dr.Maria Montessori was appointed as co-director with Giuseppe Montesano of the Orthophrenic School. She spent two years working and experimenting with materials devised by Itard and Seguin.
The start of Children's Houses
In 1898 Maria gave birth to a child (a love child of Maria Montesano and Giuseppe Montesano). The boy was named Mario, who was left in the care of a family who lived in the countryside. Maria visited Mario very often, and he joined his mother in the later years.
In 1901, Montessori left the Orthophrenic School and studied educational philosophy and anthropology. In 1904 she joined as a lecturer at the Pedagogic School of the University of Rome.
During this period, Rome was growing rapidly, and overambitious business men plunged into constructing many buildings. Some construction companies went bankrupt in this process, and many buildings were left unfinished.
Incomplete buildings in San Lorenzo district was renovated by a group of wealthy bankers and constructed small apartments for the poor people. Parents were out at work the whole day leaving behind their children at home.
Children were without any recreation and very bored. There was no one to look after and engage them gainfully. This led to children behaving in a destructive manner. They spoiled the newly completed buildings. The developers were very upset and approached Dr.Maria Montessori to occupy the children during the day. This lead to Maria Montessori opening her first Casa de Bambini or “Children’s House” on 6th January 1907.
Maria Montessori experimented with different materials with the children. She noted which material that kept the children most occupied and retained it. She realised that children who were in an environment which helped support their natural development were able to educate themselves. She referred to this as auto-education. In 1914 she wrote, “I did not invent a method of education, I simply gave some little children a chance to live.”
Casa de Bambini made great progress and spread rapidly. Soon five-year-olds were reading and writing. Within a year, the Italian speaking part of Switzerland began changing it’s kindergartens into Case Dei Bambini
In 1909 Dr. Monessori gave the first training course in her approach to roughly around 100 students. All her notes from this period were published into a book in Italy that same year. This book was translated into English and introduced in the US as the “The Montessori Method”. This book was soon translated into 20 different languages. Dr. Montessori travelled throughout UK and US and spread the knowledge about the Montessori System.
On returning from the US, she settled in Barcelona, Spain and worked in Seminary-Laboratori de Pedagogia”. All her efforts turned into a great disaster in 1993 when all Montessori Schools in Germany were shut down, and all books by Dr. Montessori were burned in protest.
Dr. Montessori was forced to leave Spain due to the outbreak of civil war. She sailed with her son and his family to the UK.
Maria Montessori's work in India
In 1939 Dr.Maria Montessori and her son Mario went to India to give three months training course in Chennai and then embarked on a lecture tour. With the outbreak of the World War II when Italy joined the side of Germans, Britain interned all the Italians in the United Kingdom and its colonies as enemies.
During that time, Mario Montessori was interned and Dr..Maria Montessori was confined to the Theosophical Society compound.
Later, Maria was put under house arrest in Kodaikanal. Here she pondered upon the relationship among all living things which led to her cosmic education programme for children aged 6-12.
In India, she met and spoke to Gandhiji, Nehru, and Tagore. On her 70th birthday, the Indian Government requested for the release of Mario and for him to join Dr. Maria Montessori. The request was granted and Dr.Maria Montessori and her son Mario Montessori both trained over a thousand Indian teachers.
In 1946 Maria Montessori returned to Netherlands. In 1949 she received the first three nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1951 she attended the 9th International Montessori Congress. This was her last public appearance. She died on 6th May 1952 at the holiday home of the Pierson family in Netherlands.
Educational Approach of Maria Montessori
Maria Montessori believed that each and every child had a unique potential that could be drawn out by using proper educational methods.
She strongly believed in the following -
A child should be brought up in an environment which will help the child grow in the best possible way.
The child should be able to live, learn and have fun without any restrictions that would hinder the child’s growth. The child should be given support as and when needed.
The environment should be changed to adapt to the needs and wants of a growing child.
The Montessori System of Education is famous worldwide, and many Montessori Schools have been established. Needless to say more and more new schools are still being established.
© 2012 Nithya Venkat