Maria Montessori is remembered as the founder of the famous Montessori Method of education which emphasised hands-on, individualised learning within mixed age groups in a child-friendly setting. Her teaching strategies and her discoveries about the process of learning revolutionised the field of education in the United States and profoundly influenced child education all around the world.
Maria Montessori was born on 31 August 1870 in Italy, to an upper middle class family. She was the first Italian physician and educator of the early 20th century. From medical school, she specialised in psychiatry. During her internship, she worked in institutions where she was disturbed at the plight of the handicapped, poor and developmentally delayed children. It was the pain of these lost children that fueled Montessori’s passion to develop a better method for helping the underprivileged. She observed that children have developmental periods in which they are primed to learn different things.
Her approach to teaching disabled children was very different than anyone else’s at the time. Instead of the traditional methods that included reading and reciting, she taught the children by using concrete materials, which worked very well. Learning was not memorising but sensing and experiencing things. The disabled children scored higher on the same test that the regular children took. This is when she thought of introducing the same method to the normal children and help them benefit from it too. In 1907, Maria established a school named ‘Casa dei Bambini', meaning ‘Children's House’ in the slums of Rome. Casa dei Bambini began with sixty children, aged three to six, whose parents were mostly workers.
In 1939, she accepted the invitation of the Theosophical Society of India and came to India. She made Chennai her home and lived there along with her son, Mario. She conducted many Indian Montessori Training Courses, thus laying a very sound foundation for the Montessori movement in India.
Montessori had many accomplishments, with one being the Montessori Method. This is a method of educating young children that stresses development of a child's own initiative and natural abilities, especially through practical play. Her educational method is in use today in public and private schools throughout the world.