Dr Maria Montessori – A Pioneer Educator

Dr Maria Montessori, a medical doctor and pioneer educator, was born in Italy in 1870 and died in 1952. She lived principally in Italy, Spain, India and the Netherlands through a turbulent period of World Wars and revolutions. Although uprooted many times in her life and several times a refugee, she continued to study children, establish schools, give lectures, and train teachers in three continents.

Today there are Montessori schools in fifty-two countries in six continents, and their number continues to expand worldwide.

Montessori based her educational plan upon the observation of children in diverse cultures and in many countries.

As a young medical student at the University of Rome in the 1890s, Montessori studied the origin and formation of living beings. When she returned to the University of Rome, after a successful medical career, to study pedagogy, philosophy, and anthropology, Montessori continued to be intrigued by development in all forms of life. As she worked with children and young adults in the following years, she gradually recognized that there were specific stages in human formation.

Eventually, she identified four such planes of development. There are two planes of childhood, completed at age 12 in a mature child and two formative stages of adulthood, completed when a young adult reaches maturity at age 24.

Montessori observed that regular education takes no heed of these planes of development. In virtually every country in the world, the first stage of development, from birth to age six, is ignored because schooling does not begin until it is over or nearly so.

Beginning at the child’s sixth year, education follows a steady ascent, becoming increasingly more difficult each year with more and more subjects added, more and more teachers introduced, more and more study and production required, based on outwardly imposed curriculum and tests.

Montessori believed that schooling should correspond to the child’s development periods. “Instead of dividing schools into nursery, primary, secondary, and university, we should divide education in planes and each of these should correspond to the phase the developing individual goes through.

It was in this background that Dr Montessori happened to get custody of a group of children below school age, living in one of Rome’s (ITALY) most disreputable sections: the San Lorenzo district. It was here that Dr Montessori tried her ideas and new materials with preschool children. The children of San Lorenzo reacted very positively to her educational environment and its subsequent revisions. These children shaped up even better than children in other schools in the neighborhood.

This made Dr Montessori realize that the traditional schooling needed not mere reform, education needed a revolution. This revolution must include recognition of the developmental stages of human formation and a realization of the goals, directions, and powers or characteristics, pertinent to each. It must go further. Montessori proposed that this revolution in education be built upon the basic responses of human beings, which make possible their complete development and adaptation to their environment. She believed that she was successful with the children in Rome and San Lorenzo, and subsequently children throughout Europe, because she had inadvertently developed an educational plan that did precisely this.