Dr. Maria Montessori was the first female physician in Italy and revolutionized how children are taught in school. Born in Chiaravalle, Italy in 1870, Dr. Montessori graduated from medical school in 1896. She began a traditional medical practice but after making clinical observations of children, she began to analyze how children learn. She then shifted her focus from treating the body to treating the mind and returned to college to study psychology and philosophy. Dr. Montessori graduated from the University of Rome in 1904 and became a professor of anthropology. In 1907, Dr. Montessori opened her first school and implemented her theories.
Dr. Montessori developed a new teaching methodology that has become known as the Montessori method. The Montessori method of teaching is a student centered approach. The method is structured around a child’s innate desire to learn. Teachers using a Montessori mode of instruction work to provide students with a stimulating environment and tools needed to explore and learn about this environment. Teachers set minimal limits and design a curriculum based on the child’s level of development. Dr. Montessori’s methods were in stark contract to the teaching methods of the time which were predicated on respect and structure.
As part of the Montessori method, a system of Math learning materials for very young children was developed which allowed four and five year olds to explore their interests where. Montessori was also the first in education to have child-sized tables and chairs made for the students. Dr. Montessori believed that the learning environment was just as important as the learning itself. Because of this belief her schools were often peaceful, orderly places, were the children valued their space for concentration and the process of learning. Likewise, The Montessori method teaches reading via phonics and whole language, the benefits of which are presently being studied and learned today.
The Montessori Method is often used in schools today, primarily in preschools and elementary schools. Teachers design lessons that engage students so that they can apply what they have been taught. This is where the term engaged learning came into our schools. Lessons are centered around allowing the students to conduct hands on projects to better understand what they have read in a book or been lectured on.
After her first schools succeeded, Dr. Montessori opened school across Italy and eventually began lecturing on her teaching methods around the world, including in the United States. For her work, Dr. Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times in in 1949, 1950, and 1951. Dr. Montessori died in Holland in 1952. Her works lives on through the Association Montessori Internationale, the organization should founded in 1929. More important, Dr. Montessori’s legacy can be found in classrooms around the world.