Dr. Maria Montessori’s groundbreaking theories in education continue to maintain its popularity throughout the world 106 years after opening the first Children’s House, in the impoverished San Lorenzo quarter of Rome, in 1907. As a physician, anthropologist, and educator, Dr. Montessori dedicated herself to the research of human development.
Born in 1870, in town of Chiaravalle, in the province of Ancona, Italy, Maria became interested in engineering at a very young age, and by 13 years old was enrolled in a technical school for engineering. At the time, it was an all boy school, yet this did not discourage Maria. After attending the tech school for seven years, Maria decided that she wanted to pursue a degree in medicine and graduated in 1896 with a medical degree in psychiatry.
Dr. Montessori’s holistic approach to medicine sparked an interest in mental health and the work of 19th century physicians, Jean Marc Gaspard Itard and Edouard Seguin. Soon Dr. Montessori began working with children with cognitive disabilities. Then in 1907, she was invited to run a child care facility for the poor working families called, “Casa dei Bambini” (Children’s House), in the slums of San Lorenzo, Rome.
Through scientific observation, Dr. Montessori discovered that these children were better able to construct their own personalities when given the opportunity to choose their activities spontaneously. She also found that children learn through their senses and have sensitive periods for learning from birth to age 6. Within six months the children from the Casa dei Bambini were transformed under Dr. Montessori’s guidance and became known as the “miracle children.” This drew attention from educators and public figures who wanted learn more about Dr. Montessori’s discoveries. A second Casa dei Bambini was opened and experienced the same profound success as the first. Dr. Montessori then began lecturing, teaching college classes, and opening more schools. She continued this work and ultimately developed an approach to learning that today is known worldwide as the Montessori method.