Italian physician and educationalist who revolutionized the teaching of infants by devising the Montessori method.
Born in Ancona into a noble family, Montessori studied medicine at the University of Rome. In 1896 she became the first woman in Italy to receive a medical degree, after which she began to work with retarded children in the psychiatric clinic of the university. This experience, coupled with her studies in philosophy, psychology, and education, prompted her in 1907 to open the first Casa dei Bambini (‘children's house’), a school in which she applied her own ideas about teaching to children of normal intelligence from the San Lorenzo slum district of Rome. After this successful experiment she devoted herself to the education of normal children.
In 1909 Montessori set out her educational system in a book, Il metodo della pedagogia scientifica (translated as The Montessori Method, 1912), to encourage others to adopt the same approach. Developing the ideas of Jean Itard and Edouard Séguin, she advocated the use of a ‘prepared environment’ in which the child would be provided with a variety of sensory materials and be allowed to progress at its own pace. In this way the child's self-confidence and self-discipline would increase and the teacher would have only a limited role. The emphasis would be placed on the child's natural creative potential, rather than compulsion, and the reading and writing process would commence only when the child was ready, which was usually sooner under the Montessori method than under other regimes.
The success of her system led Montessori to open schools in Italy, Spain, south Asia, and the Netherlands and she expanded her theories in several later publications. With some modifications, her ideas have become an integral part of modern nursery- and infant-school education.
Subjects: Arts and Humanities.