Maria Montessori was the first female doctor in Italy in 1896 at the age of 25. She had to overcome many social obstacles. Often the men in her class wouldn’t save her a chair or wouldn’t speak to her. It wasn’t socially correct for her to dissect bodies with the male students, so she had to dissect corpses alone, at night. This was before refrigeration, and the smells and atmosphere almost caused her to quit. However, she saw a little child with a red ribbon, and she remembered her vision. Her own father did not speak to her for two years even though he walked her to school daily.
Her first job was working with special needs children. The children had no toys or materials. Maria observed the children and designed materials for them to learn through all their senses. After a period of time many of the children passed the standard public school test. Maria was asked to start a school in the slums of Rome. The parents were working and many children were left to their own devices during the day. The unsupervised children were defacing the walls of the new apartments. The owners gave her a unit to use as her school. This is where the first Casa Bambini was started and is still in existence today! Maria did not teach the children to read. She taught them the sounds of the letters. One day they were on the roof of the apartments, and one of the children picked up a piece of charcoal and wrote the word “mano” (hand) on the pavement. Soon all the children were excitedly writing words! Soon their next problem was children writing their words all over the apartment walls! Word spread about Maria and her “revolutionary” method of teaching children. People came to visit and often stayed for years to learn from her.
Alexander Graham Bell, who started his career as a teacher of the deaf, was fascinated by Montessori and in 1912 started a Montessori class in his own home for his grandchildren and some neighborhood children.
In 1915 Maria was asked to set up a classroom at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Bleachers were set up outside the glass-walled classroom and hundreds of people observed the children doing their “work”. There are now over 5,000 Montessori schools in the United States.
I look at the Montessori method as a total immersion in learning. Every single activity on the shelves teaches something. Once a mother asked me how much of our day was spent on academics. Every single moment is spent on academics in our school! Each song teaches something! Each lesson teaches something! Each work on the shelf teaches something! Montessori is the most amazing method I have ever seen for teaching children!
Books about Maria Montessori:
Maria Montessori by Rita Kramer
The Montessori Method with an introduction by June Goodrich
The Secret of Childhood by Maria Montessori