Nearly 100 years ago, an Italian physician
inspired the birth of a worldwide educational movement. Dr. Maria Montessori,
one of Italy’s first female physicians, became interested in education while
caring for mentally challenged children in a psychiatric clinic in Rome. There
she combined sensory-rich environments and hands-on experiential techniques in
the hopes of reaching children previously labeled “deficient and insane.” The
experiment was a resounding success. Within two years, the children were able to
pass Italy’s standardized public school tests. More importantly, Montessori’s
innovative practices had elicited positive learning behaviors from children
previously left behind by society.
In 1907, Montessori continued shaping her
learning model by opening “A Children’s House” for pre-school children
living in the slums of San Lorenzo. With her scientific background to
guide her, she observed how young people learned best when engaged in
purposeful activity rather than simply being fed information. She drew
upon her clinical understanding of children’s cognitive growth and
development in constructing an educational framework that would respect
individuality and fulfill the needs of the “whole child.” Dr.
Montessori’s pioneering work created a blueprint for nurturing all
children –learning disabled to gifted—to become the self-motivated,
independent and life-long learners that are the ultimate goal of today’s
educational reform movement.
Since that time, Montessori’s philosophy,
materials and practices have spread around the globe and have been
implemented in a variety of cultural settings. Following Dr.
Montessori’s death in 1952, the practice enjoyed a renaissance in
America as parents sought new learning options for their children. In
1960, parent and teacher Dr. Nancy McCormick Rambusch founded the
American Montessori Society
(AMS) to meet an
overwhelming public demand for more information on Montessori education.
Today, Dr. Montessori’s visionary ideas flourish
as the cornerstone of a thriving educational practice. There are
thousands of Montessori schools in the U.S. including hundreds of
programs in public and charter schools, where the interest in enrollment
often results in long waiting lists. However, because any school can
call itself “Montessori” – there is no trademark on the name – AMS can
only vouch for the authenticity of the programs as practiced in schools
that are members of the Society.
As more and more schools incorporated core
elements of her model—multi-age classrooms, early childhood education—
Montessori became widely recognized as being ahead of her time.
Remarkably, her visionary ideas remain viable concepts that have
profoundly influenced the entire educational landscape.