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Maria_Montessori1913Maria Montessori was an Italian physician, educator, and innovator, acclaimed for her educational method that builds on the way children naturally learn.

She opened the first Montessori school—the Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House—in Rome on January 6, 1907. Subsequently, she traveled the world and wrote extensively about her approach to education, attracting many devotees. There are now more than 22,000 Montessori schools in at least 110 countries worldwide.

Maria Montessori was born on August 31, 1870, in the provincial town of Chiaravalle, Italy. Her father was a financial manager for a state-run industry. Her mother was raised in a family that prized education. She was well-schooled and an avid reader—unusual for Italian women of that time. The same thirst for knowledge took root in young Maria, and she immersed herself in many fields of study before creating the educational method that bears her name.

Beginning in her early childhood years, Maria grew up in Rome, a paradise of libraries, museums, and fine schools.


Maria’s early medical practice focused on psychiatry. She also developed an interest in education, attending classes on pedagogy and immersing herself in educational theory. Her studies led her to observe, and call into question, the prevailing methods of teaching children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The opportunity to improve on these methods came in 1900, when she was appointed co-director of a new training institute for special education teachers. Maria approached the task scientifically, carefully observing and experimenting to learn which teaching methods worked best. Many of the children made unexpected gains, and the program was proclaimed a success. In 1907 Maria accepted a new challenge to open a childcare center in a poor inner-city district. This became the first Casa dei Bambini, a quality learning environment for young children. The youngsters were unruly at first, but soon showed great interest in working with puzzles, learning to prepare meals, and manipulating materials that held lessons in math. She observed how they absorbed knowledge from their surroundings, essentially teaching themselves. Utilizing scientific observation and experience gained from her earlier work with young children, Maria designed learning materials and a classroom environment that fostered the children’s natural desire to learn. News of the school’s success soon spread through Italy and by 1910 Montessori schools were acclaimed worldwide.


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. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment. The teacher’s task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child. [Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, translated by Claude A. Claremont]

. . . the task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility, and evil with activity, as often happens in old-time discipline . . . A room in which all the children move about usefully, intelligently, and voluntarily, without committing any rough or rude act, would seem to me a classroom very well disciplined indeed. [Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method, translated by Anne E. George]

The instructions of the teacher consist then merely in a hint, a touch—enough to give a start to the child. The rest develops of itself. [Maria Montessori, Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, translator unknown]

A teacher, therefore, who would think that he could prepare himself for his mission through study alone would be mistaken. The first thing required of a teacher is that he be rightly disposed for his task. [Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood, translated by M. Joseph Costelloe, S.J.]

The teacher, when she begins work in our schools, must have a kind of faith that the child will reveal himself through work. [Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, translated by Claude A. Claremont]


Before elaborating any system of education, we must therefore create a favorable environment that will encourage the flowering of a child’s natural gifts. All that is needed is to remove the obstacles. And this should be the basis of, and point of departure for, all future education. The first thing to be done, therefore, is to discover the true nature of a child and then assist him in his normal development. [Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood, translated by M. Joseph Costelloe, S.J.]

When a child is given a little leeway, he will at once shout, “I want to do it!” But in our schools, which have an environment adapted to children’s needs, they say, “Help me to do it alone.” And these words reveal their inner needs. [Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood, translated by M. Joseph Costelloe, S.J.]

What is to be particularly noted in these child conversions is a psychic cure, a return to what is normal. Actually the normal child is one who is precociously intelligent, who has learned to overcome himself and to live in peace, and who prefers a disciplined task to futile idleness. When we see a child in this light, we would more properly call his “conversion” a “normalization.” [Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood, translated by M. Joseph Costelloe, S.J.]

A child in his earliest years, when he is only two or a little more, is capable of tremendous achievements simply through his unconscious power of absorption, though he is himself still immobile. After the age of three he is able to acquire a great number of concepts through his own efforts in exploring his surroundings. In this period he lays hold of things through his own activity and assimilates them into his mind. [Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child, translated by M. Joseph Costelloe, S.J.]

Here is an essential principal of education: to teach details is to bring confusion; to establish the relationship between things is to bring knowledge. [Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence, translator unknown]