Maria Montessori Biography
Died At Age: 81
Sun Sign: Virgo
Born in: Chiaravalle (Ancona), Italy
Famous as: Physician and Educator
father: Alessandro Montessori
mother: Renilde Stoppani
children: Mario Montessori Sr
place of death: Noordwijk, Netherlands
education: University of Rome La Sapienza (1890–1896), Regio Istituto Tecnico Leonardo da Vinci (1886–1890), Regia Scuola Tecnica Michelangelo Buonarroti (1886)
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator who developed the approach of education that carries her name. She opened the first Montessori school over a century ago in Rome, and today there are several schools all over the world which follow her way of teaching. As an educator Montessori felt that the education system for children during her time was too rigid. She believed that children would thrive and learn better in an environment where they were educated according to their psychological and intellectual capabilities and allowed a degree of independence. The foundation for Maria’s future career had been laid when as a child she was encouraged to study and observe the world around her. Her mother was well educated for her times and she motivated her daughter to do well in life. Maria was bright as a student and held high aspirations for her future. Her father wanted her to become a teacher but Maria had set her eyes on becoming a doctor. Medicine was primarily a male dominant field during the late 19th century and she was often discriminated against being a woman. Nevertheless, the gutsy lady completed her education and embarked on a career as an educator eventually developing the educational approach which came to be known as Montessori education.
- Maria Montessori was born in Italy to Alessandro Montessori and his wife Renilde Stoppani. Her father worked in the Ministry of Finance and her mother was well educated for a woman of her time. Her family gave much importance to education and Maria herself possessed an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
- She began attending a public elementary school in 1876 and a few years later entered a secondary school Regia Scuola Tecnica Michelangelo Buonarroti where she learned Italian, arithmetic, accounting and science among other subjects.
- She was particularly good at mathematics and science and thus aspired to be an engineer. It was very unusual for girls of that era to study technical subjects, but Maria strived hard to break gender barriers. She graduated with a degree in physics-mathematics from Regio Instituto Tecnico Leonardo da Vinci in 1890.
- Her parents wanted her to become a teacher, but Maria was interested in pursuing higher education. By this time she had realized that she wanted to be a doctor and entered the medical program at the University of Rome in 1893.
- She faced considerable criticism and discrimination as a female medical student but was determined in her quest. She specialized in pediatrics and psychiatry and became a doctor of medicine in 1896.
- Following her graduation as a medical doctor she was employed as an assistant at the San Giovanni Hospital attached to the University. During this time she also started private practice. In late 1896 she became a surgical assistant at Santo Spirito Hospital in Rome.
- During her early medical career she worked mostly with the poor and children. She had a deep interest in education as well as psychiatry and used to observe the ways in which children were educated. She felt that children could do better if some changes were made to the existing education system.
- She extensively read the works of the 19th century educators Jean Marc Gaspard Itard and Edouard Seguin and was greatly inspired by their ideas. She decided to focus her future work on children with learning difficulties.
- She was appointed as a councilor to the newly formed National league for the Protection of Retarded Children in 1899. She lectured on special methods of education for retarded children and also wrote several articles on this topic.
- Her studies on retarded children inspired her to test her theories on normal children. The Government of Italy gave her this opportunity and in 1907 she opened the Casa dei Bambini or Children’s House enrolling around 50-60 children from poor backgrounds.
- She implemented several changes to the existing norms of children’s education in her school. She redesigned the classroom settings and made it more child-friendly. The children were given autonomy and their natural desire to learn was encouraged.
- Her first school became a great success and soon schools all over Italy began following this model. The idea of the “Montessori” educational approach gained in popularity all over the world and soon Montessori schools were sprouting up in countries like America, Germany, France, China, and India, among other nations.
- The immense popularity of her way of teaching led to Montessori traveling to several countries all over the world, lecturing and guiding educationists on her approach. From 1915 to 1939 she covered countries like Spain, the Netherlands, and the U.K. In 1939 she went to India where she would stay for seven years before returning home.
- She is most famous for developing the Montessori system of education in which each child is treated as an individual in his own right. Children are encouraged to learn at their natural speed in a child friendly environment which whets their curiosity to learn. Today this approach to education is very popular all over the world.
- She received the French Legion of Honor and was made an Officer of the Dutch Order of Orange Nassau in recognition of her invaluable works in the field of education.
- She was nominated thrice for the Nobel Peace Prize.
- She formed a relationship with Giuseppe Montesano, a fellow doctor. A son, Mario, was born in 1898 as a result of their union. Montessori and Montesano did not get married and their relationship ended when Montesano married another woman. Her son would collaborate with his mother on many of her later works.
- She lived a long life and was active in the field of education till the very end. She died in 1952 at the age of 81.
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