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Maria Montessori and her Montessori Method of teaching

A modern Montessori classroom.

A modern Montessori classroom.

A young Maria Montessori

A young Maria Montessori


Maria Montessori 1870 - 1952

"I studied my children and they taught me how to teach them." ~ Maria Montessori

Today there are more than 22,000 Montessori schools in at least 110 countries worldwide which attest to the enduring and creative method of teaching she professed. That Maria Montessori's child-centered education became so popular at the turn of the 20th century and is still today practiced all over the world is a testament to her method of teaching in which the child learns and discovers his/her fullest potential.

In a time of standardized tests, the Montessori Method of teaching is refreshing and definitely not an education that is taught to a test. The Montessori Method is one of a child-centered education approach based on scientific observations of children from birth to adulthood and is practiced in public and private schools throughout the United States. This method of teaching has never become obsolete because students learn to think critically, work collaboratively and act boldly which is a necessary skill set for the 21st century.

Maria Montessori circa 1919.

Maria Montessori circa 1919.

Maria Montessori advocated for classroom furniture to fit the size of her pupils.

Maria Montessori advocated for classroom furniture to fit the size of her pupils.

Children working with manipulatives.

Children working with manipulatives.

Maria with her son Mario in India.

Maria with her son Mario in India.

By Maria Montessori

By Maria Montessori

Maria Tecla Artemesia Montessori was an Italian physician and educator and is best known for the philosophy of education that bears her name. She was born in Chiaravalle, Italy in an upper middle-class family.

Her father, Alessandro Montessori was an official of the Ministry of Finance and worked in a local state-run tobacco factory. Her mother was Renilde Stoppani and quite well educated for the times. Maria was most influenced by her mother who encouraged her to pursue an education in an age where Italian women married, became housewives, and mothers.

In 1883/84, Maria entered a secondary technical school of all boys to study engineering in Rome. She graduated from here in 1886 with good grades. She continued her education at the technical institute Regio Instituto Tecinco Leonardo da Vinci again as the only girl in the class. Here she excelled in sciences and mathematics. She graduated in 1890 at age 20 with a certificate in sciences and mathematics.

Then, much to her father's dismay, but with the support of her mother, Maria enrolled at the University of Rome to study medicine in 1893. Again, she was the only female in an all male profession. She won an academic prize in her first year at university. She worked as a hospital assistant during her time as a medical student and gained clinical experience.

When she graduated from university in 1896 as a doctor of medicine, she became the first woman medical doctor in all of Italy. She was then employed as an assistant at the University of Rome hospital and started a private practice. She specialized in pediatrics and psychiatry.

From 1896-1901, Maria worked with and researched mentally retarded children, their illnesses, and disabled children in general. During this period, Maria also entered into a love affair with Guiseppe Montesano, a fellow doctor.

They both were co-directors of the Orthophrencic School of Rome. Together they had a child, Mario, but because of the times, Maria did not wish to marry because she would then not be permitted to do her work. She would have to stay home and be a housewife and mother.

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Maria could not bring up the child as a single mother and so he was placed in the care of a rural family. Maria was later reunited with Mario when he was an adolescent and he became a great assistant to her in her research and work.

Montesano went on to marry another woman and Maria never spoke to him again. Their work together ended and Maria went on to study, research and create her teaching method.

Part of Maria's work at the Orthophrenic School was to visit asylums throughout Rome and from her observation of the children, she began to form her teaching pedagogy. Her teaching methods were influenced by two leading 19th century physicians and educators, Jean Marc Gaspard Itard and Edouard Seguin.

Maria was particularly intrigued with Itard's ideas and she created a more specific and organized system for applying them to the everyday education of children with disabilities. She wrote articles and lectured urging the creation of special classes and institutions for mentally disabled children as well as teacher training for the instructors.

Maria focused on the abilities instead of the disabilities of the children she observed and created teaching methods and materials which she would later adapt with mainstream children. She was appointed as co-director of the Scuola Magistrale Ortofrenica a medico-pedagogical institute for training teachers in educating mentally disabled children which included an attached laboratory classroom.

This school was an immediate success and when mentally disabled children took public exams along with normal children, Maria's students did better than some of the normal children. Maria continued working on what she called her "scientific pedagogy" and continued lecturing at the University of Rome and in public about her teaching methods.

From 1906 to 1911, Maria worked in the poor San Lorenzo district of Rome and opened her first school, Casa del Bambini (Children's House) and enrolled 50-60 children between the ages of two through seven. Her lessons included teaching hygiene and the personal care of dressing and undressing, care of the environment such as dusting and sweeping and caring for a garden.

Also, included in her lessons were the use of materials she had developed such as blocks, wooden toys, wooden instruments etc. She highlighted the use of manipulatives for the children to use to enhance their education. The children leaned by doing, not by lecture as was the popular method of education in Italian schools at the time.

Maria did not directly teach the children but oversaw the school, the teachers and the education. She observed behaviors in young children which formed the foundation of here educational methods.

Through her observations of the children she observed their deep attention and concentration on multiple repetitions of activity and sensitivity to order in their environment. Given free choice, the children showed more interest in practical activities and Maria's materials rather than the toys provided from them. They were also unmotivated by sweets and rewards. She observed spontaneous self-discipline that emerged among the children.

Maria observed as the children worked independently they could reach new levels of autonomy and become self-motivated and reach new levels of understanding. Maria came to believe that acknowledging children as individuals and teaching them as such would yield better learning and fulfill the potential in each individual child.

She allowed children free choice of materials, uninterrupted work, freedom of movement and activity within limits set by the environment of the classroom. She saw independence as the aim of education and the role of the teacher as an observer and director of children's innate psychological development.

The Casa del Bambini was a success and so more schools of its kind were opened up throughout Rome. The children continued to exhibit concentration, attention, and spontaneous self-discipline.

Maria also found that four and five years old could learn to read far beyond what was expected for their age. She provided letters cut from sandpaper and mounted on cards and movable cut out letters and picture cards with labels. This enabled the children to learn to read at younger ages that what was expected.

Maria's Montessori Method of teaching was officially adopted in the public schools throughout Italy and Switzerland and Montessori schools were opened in Paris and other western European cities and countries.

At this time, Montessori societies were founded in the United States and the United Kingdom. The first Montessori School in the U.S. was opened in 1911 in Tarrytown, New York. Maria's work was widely translated and published during this period.

During these years, Maria traveled and visited different countries throughout the world bringing her Montessori Method of teaching worldwide. Maria spent much time in Barcelona, Spain opening Montessori Schools, but the beginning of the Spanish Civil War brought in a military dictatorship that closed many of her schools. She left Spain permanently in 1934.

In her own country, the Mussolini fascist government came into power and because her schools fostered independence of learning and thought, Mussolini had them closed down.

It was during the period of 1939-46 that Maria and her son, Mario went to live and work in India where her schools were supported by Mahatma Gandhi as he felt they were important to India's quest for independence. During their stay there, Mario was interred in India because he was Italian and feared a fascist during WWII. Maria was placed on house arrest until 1946. It was then that Maria and Mario returned to Europe and continued traveling, lecturing and bringing her schools to Europe and India.

Maria resided in Amsterdam, the Netherlands to continue with her education work until her death in 1952. From then on, her son, Mario, continued with her work and the Montessori Schools.

Young child working independently and individually.

Young child working independently and individually.

"And so we discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being."

~ Maria Montessori

Manipulatives created for the Montessori Method of teaching.

Manipulatives created for the Montessori Method of teaching.

"The first thing to be done, therefore, is to discover the true nature of a child and then assist him/her in his/her normal development." ~ Maria Montessori

The Montessori Method of teaching

Maria Montessori was a woman ahead of her time and a pioneer of theories of early childhood education as she worked intensely in the fields of psychiatry, education and anthropology during her lifetime. She strongly believed that each child is born with a unique potential to be revealed rather than as a "blank slate" waiting to be written upon.

Her Montessori Method of teaching and theory are explained in her books, The Montessori Method (1912) and The Discovery of the Child (1948).

Her major contributions to educating children were preparing the most natural and life supporting environment for the child; observe the child living freely in this environment; and continually adapting the environment in order that the child my fulfill his/her greatest potential physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Her message to those that emulated her or adopted her method of education was always to turn one's attention to the child and "to follow the child."

She observed that intrinsic intelligence was present in children of all socio-economic backgrounds and she viewed the child as one who is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive and thoughtfully prepared learning environment. Her method values the human spirit and development of the whole child - physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively.

She believed in turning out a human being that was superior not only academically but emotionally and spiritually as the result of 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.

She maintained the respect and dignity of each child was to be foremost to her learning methods in an era when children were to be "seen and not heard." The children were given the freedom to choose and carry out their own activities at their paces and following their own inclinations. She observed the great concentration in the children and the spontaneous repetition of chosen activities.

Her school room was equipped with child-sized furniture and shelves and she observed a strong tendency in the children to order their own environment by straightening tables, chairs, shelves and ordering materials.

As the children chose some activities over others, Maria refined the materials and manipulatives she offered to them. She found that over time, children began to exhibit what she called "spontaneous discipline." She observed human behavior as guided by universal, innate characteristics in human psychology.

Maria observed four distinct periods in the human development of the child:

  • birth to six years of age
  • six to twelve years of age
  • twelve to eighteen years of age
  • eighteen to twenty-four years of age

She called for education approaches specific to each period of a child's development and she saw different characteristics, learning modes, and developing imperatives active in each of these periods.

Her method includes multi-age groupings that encouraged peer learning, uninterrupted blocks of learning/work time and guided choice of work activity. The younger children were able to learn from the older ones and the older children reinforce what they have already learned by teaching concepts they have mastered.

This also mirrors the real world where individuals work and socialize with people of all ages and dispositions. Montessori instructors match the appropriate lessons and materials to the window of opportunity when learning is most naturally absorbed and internalized by the child.

During her lifetime, Maria developed pedagogical methods and materials for the first two periods of a child's life and she wrote and lectured about the third and fourth periods.

The Montessori Method of education included:

  • Young children's education along with the development of the child's own initiative and natural abilities especially through practical play.
  • This allowed children to develop at their own pace and provided educators with a better understand of the child's development.
  • Educators set up special environments to meet the needs of students in there groups: 2 1/2 years; 2 1/2 to 6 years; and 6 1/2 to 12 years.
  • Children learn through activities that involve exploration, manipulations, order, repetition, abstraction and communication.
  • The instructor was to encourage children in the first two age groups to use their senses to explore and manipulate materials in their immediate environment.
  • Children in the last group deal with abstract concepts based on their newly developed powers of reasoning,, imagination and creativity.

From living during WWII, Maria was inspired to add peace education to the Montessori curriculum. It was in India that she developed her Education for Peace component to her method. Because of this, she was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Montessori Method also includes an interdisciplinary curriculum as the child passes from the concrete to the abstract. The child begins to apply his/her knowledge to the real-world experience.

The organization of facts and figures prepares the child for the world of adolescence when thought and emotion evolve into understanding more abstract universal concepts such as equality, freedom and justice.

That Maria's method and schools are flourishing today in the United States and world-wide is a testament to her observations of children and her method of teaching them by bringing out the innate goodness, intelligence, and emotional learning all children need and deserve.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on January 08, 2015:

peachpurple: Thanks so much for reading this and I am glad to hear Maria's methods are used in Malaysia also. I think her methods are timeless and universal as it speaks to all children and their abilities to learn. Thanks so much for your visit.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on January 05, 2015:

maria methods worked for all kindergarten worldwide, even malaysia is using this method

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on December 06, 2014:

monia saad: Thank you so much for reading this and I am pleased you enjoyed it.

monia ben saad from In my Dream on December 05, 2014:

great hub smart story nice pic

thank you

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on November 23, 2014:

Kathryn: We have a Montessori Pre-school and elementary school in the school system I retired from. It is quite successful and many parents send their children to the school. It is quite interesting to observe the children learning and so self-directed at such a young age. I agree with all you say about the Montessori schools. Too bad we haven't introduced the Montessori method in all our pre-schools. All children would benefit from that.

Kathryn L Hill from LA on November 23, 2014:

All parents should see a (true) Montessori school in action. They should read the Absorbent Mind and The Secret of Childhood. All Montessori teachers should confer with the book, The Montessori Method, and try their best to comprehend and implement her ideas. If we institute nation- wide Montessori preschools, the world would change. If I were President this is what I would do. :)

PS Your picture shows calm children concentrating and working independently. They appear relaxed and at ease.

Let me repeat the word, *concentrating.*

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on November 23, 2014:

Kathryn: I can't agree with you more. She certainly was ahead of her time and no one seems to have usurped her methods. Thanks so much for your visit.

Kathryn L Hill from LA on November 22, 2014:

- luckily, ignorance is temporary.

She was ahead of her time. Way ahead, perhaps.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on November 22, 2014:

Kathryn: Montessori was a very wise woman and really studied her students to know how they would learn best. She respected each child and their way of learning and that is what I like about her methods. I agree her methods are not always best for our assembly line education, but too bad we don't teach all children in this manner. Education is the last place we put this country's money. Too sad.

Kathryn L Hill from LA on November 19, 2014:

- absolutely fabulous and excellent article. Thank You!

Montessori understood the inner life of the child where the true self operates. By tuning into this inner life, intrinsic motivation is sparked.

Her methods were not for typical teachers in that the child is to teach himself according to his own inner dictates.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 15, 2014:

Melinda; It sounds as if your brother was greatly enhanced by the Montessori Method of teaching. What a success he is. Thanks for sharing your brother's experience with this method and I appreciate your visit.

Melinda Longoria MSM from Garland, Texas on October 15, 2014:

My youngest brother went to Montessori from the time he was three years old to Kinder age. He graduated salutatorian of his high school class and now has a full ride scholarship to Texas Tech University. He is going for a Petroleum Engineering degree.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 14, 2014:

Chef: Thank you so much for reading this and I am pleased you enjoyed it. I have not heard of the Waldorf School or who Steiner is. They sound like they nurture in a wonderful way. There are some students who benefit greatly by these alternative educations. I find Montessori's method to be so interesting and although I have not taught by her method exactly, I have used a lot of manipulatives in my teaching lessons. Students seem to enjoy working with them. Thanks so much for your visit and comments. Most appreciated.

Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on October 14, 2014:

Thank you suzette. I have flirted with alternative education in the past - studied with Waldorf School teachers (Steiner) and a little with Montessori. I know Waldorf teachers try to provide rich environments for learning and tend to nurture the 'soul' aspects of the children, preparing them not especially for the academic competitive mainstream world (although there are exceptions ) but for what? I guess they try to bring out the humanity in their students, the creative potential, artists and thinkers and scientists.

Your article is a great introduction to a pioneering woman determined to create something different. Her legacy lives on.

Votes and a share.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 12, 2014:

rebecca: Well, the reason I like Maria Montessori so much is her concentration is on respecting the child and their learning process. As teachers I have found we learn as much from our students as they learn from us. She realized this and put it to good use in her particular method of teaching.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on October 12, 2014:

A wonderful tribute to a great educator,Maria Montessori. I love how you opened with her wonderful quote.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 08, 2014:

Hi Audrey: I am so glad you enjoyed reading this and appreciate the Montessori Method of teaching.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 08, 2014:

Hi Kim: I am so pleased you enjoyed reading this. As a teacher you understand the importance of her method of teaching. I agree, why do we stop the Montessori Method at the young ages. It would certainly be advantageous for students to learn with this method all the way through high school. I know here in Ohio it is considered great for younger students, but not the older students. I would imagine when the younger students have to attend the traditional classroom setting it must be frustrating for them and quite a culture clash.

Audrey Howitt from California on October 08, 2014:

I love Montessori methods--what a great article!!

ocfireflies from North Carolina on October 06, 2014:


I completely agree. Montessori methods are dropped too soon in most school districts. Older students could benefit as well. As always, excellent information and interesting, too. Up/Shared/Pinned. Thanks for writing about a woman ahead of her time. She is just the type of woman I admire, also.


Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 04, 2014:

Sanjay: Thanks for reading this. Her method of teaching is unique even today, although in certain parts of America her method is quite popular. I have never been trained in the Montessori Method, but I admire it as well as admiring her fortitude in bringing her method to the entire world.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 04, 2014:

Hi Nell: Yes, Montessori is quite popular here in the U.S. Many U.S. public school systems have included her methods for kindergarten and elementary/primary grades. I have never seen it in action for older kids of say 6-12 grades, but I have observed it in the younger grades. I think it is a brilliant way to teach children, although I have never been trained to teach it. Thanks so much for your interest and yes, she was quite a woman - way ahead of her time. Just the type of woman I admire.

Sanjay Sharma from Mandi (HP) India on October 02, 2014:

It is a fascinating account of child education, but most of the education system is based on theories not practical approaches as that of the Montessori methods. Thanks for sharing the biography of a great lady.

Nell Rose from England on September 27, 2014:

I had of course heard of her and her teaching method, but over the years I had totally forgotten about it, so this is fascinating! In a time when it was a male dominated world she was amazing! great read suzette, and fascinating history too, nell

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 27, 2014:

Adventujretravels: I agree with you - more public schools would do better to adopt the Montessori method of teaching. Today, too many schools 'teach to the test,' because test scores have become the end all in education. It is really sad.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 27, 2014:

MarleneB: Yes, treating children with "respect and dignity" I believe is an important part of education. Without it not much learning occurs. It is all about them and children are the center of attention in Montessori teaching.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 27, 2014:

tirelesstraveler: How interesting that your grandchildren have experienced Montessori schools. I am glad to hear it has been successful for them. Thanks so much for your visit.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 27, 2014:

John: I am not familiar with the Steiner Schools and I don't know if we have them here in the U.S. We have Montessori and Goddard Schools. The Goddard Schools are not Montessori but have a definite curriculum of learning that is unique. I think all these schools are a great alternative to the public school systems in both our countries. Thanks so much for reading and for your insightful comments.

Giovanna from UK on September 24, 2014:

It's a shame that mainstream schools don't adopt more of the Montessori methods because they work!

Marlene Bertrand from USA on September 24, 2014:

This is such a detailed history of an amazing woman. I really like the "respect and dignity" aspect of the Montessori approach to helping children learn.

Judy Specht from California on September 20, 2014:

Our daughter-in-law did an internship at a Montessori school and uses a lot of the ideas with the grands. It seems like a good choice for my grand children. I observed a class once and was impressed.

Thanks for broadening my knowledge of the Montessori method of teaching.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on September 20, 2014:

Wonderfully detailed and informative hub Suzette. Maria was a very intelligent woman and obviously ahead of her time. Montessori and Steiner Schools are quite popular as an alternative form of education here in Australia, and attract those disenchanted with the mainstream education system. Voted up.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 20, 2014:

Jackie: I finally figured out how to approve your comment. Thanks so much for your in put!

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 20, 2014:

Jackie: I have your comments here but there has been a glitch in the system as I am unable to approve your comments. The only tabs on your comments are spam and delete. Perhaps you would like to comment again. Her whole pregnancy is a mystery. Being an unwed mother certainly was difficult in her time period, but fortunately she and her son where reunited in his adolescence and he became devoted to her and her cause. He was able to keep her schools and teaching method going after her death.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 20, 2014:

Vellur: thank you for reading this and I am so pleased you enjoyed this. She certainly was a woman ahead of her time and she completely understood how children learn from her extensive observations.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on September 19, 2014:

I can understand why this woman couldn't raise her child and clearly she was in constant contact with him. If today she had this child he would be spending a good amount of time with someone else because of her work as it is with all parents busy with work. Because he did take such a big interest in her work tells me she included him in it from a very young age. I was shocked reading it that she was even allowed to go on with her work being an unwed mother in this time period so possibly her son was hidden from the public and his existence as being hers. Strange her mother didn't keep him; so I imagine a lot going on there we don't have a clue about.

Great article. Very interesting.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on September 19, 2014:

A great hub about the pioneer of the Montessori system of education. She made learning fun for kids. Enjoyed reading and voted up.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 19, 2014:

Dianna: It is an ideal situation for learning for children. Too bad we don't follow her methods all through to high school. We have Montessori schools here in NE Ohio but they are pre-school, kindergarten or early elementary grades only. Her methods are quite interesting and valid. Thanks so much for reading and I am pleased you enjoyed this.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 19, 2014:

Lamservant: It is sad that she didn't raise her own son but apparently the conventions of the time would not permit it and she didn't 'to want to stop her work. I am glad she was reunited with him in his adolescence. They remained together for the rest of her life. When you focus on a child's abilities rather than their disabities you can see the child blossom and grow in knowledge and creativity. We have several Montessori schools in NE Ohio and her teaching methods are popular around here. Thanks so much for your visit and comments.

Dianna Mendez on September 19, 2014:

I do love the creative and critical thinking processes a Montessori school promotes in children. It allows children who need this type of setting to excel. Your article is fascinating. Thanks for sharing the background on this method of teaching.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 19, 2014:

Thank you Mike and I am glad you enjoyed readng this. Yes, compared to no child left behind her method is revolutionary! LOL! Children are creative human beings not widgets. Her methods have stood the test of time.

Lori Colbo from United States on September 19, 2014:

Fascinating. It is, however, disappointing and rather paradoxical that she did not raise her own child. She worked tirelessly to make a difference in children's lives, but did not seem to mother her own child until his adolescent years. I am glad they were able to reconnect later and work together.

I appreciate the fact, though, that she was able to think and perform outside the box of standard cultural women's roles. She did a lot for the education of children and her brilliance cannot be discounted. "Maria focused on the abilities instead of the disabilities of the children." That's a wonderful philosphy She was a very beautiful woman. Nice work in your hub and the research you put into it.

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on September 19, 2014:

Maria Montessori can still teach us today. As 'no child left behind' is a cookie cutter phrase that binds the hands of educators around the country. Excellent article regarding an interesting and charismatic character.

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