January 6, 2011

Maria Montessori Opens a School – 1907

Montessori, who was the first female doctor in Italy, was learned in psychiatry, anthropology, and education. She worked with “special needs” children in Rome, kids who were considered “defective” and even “uneducatable.” After working with the children for a while, she had several 8-year-old students take the state tests in reading and writing—and people were amazed when they, not only passed, but scored above average!

After this success, she was asked to establish a school for kids in a Roman housing project. This Casa dei Bambini (Children's House) began on this day 104 years ago. It was the first of thousands of Montessori schools worldwide—there are estimates that there are at least 7,000 in existence today.

Of course, Maria Montessori didn't establish all of these schools herself. Instead, people have studied her philosophy and methods, which are based on the concept that children learn at their own individual pace and through all five senses—not just watching and listening, but doing things themselves.

By the way, most of today's Montessori Schools are not in Italy, as you might guess, but in the United States. Interest in Montessori's methods began early in the U.S. In 1914 a booklet about the method was published, and intense interest had been aroused among Americans by 1917, when a woman named Margaret Stephenson came to the US and began to train Montessori teachers.

Montessori was successful in her own time, but she was exiled from her own country! The fascist leader Benito Mussolini wanted to make Italy's children into soldiers, and Montessori would not compromise her principles—so she was banished. She lived in Spain until 1936, when the Spanish Civil War broke out (the war that end with Franco as the fascist leader of the country). She moved to the Netherlands until 1939. Luckily, she left just before Hitler took over that nation in 1940. (Fascism seemed to be following her around. It was a tough time to be a European.)

Montessori went for a visit to India in 1939, and because of World War II she lived there for many years. She lived the last three years of her life in the Netherlands.

Also on this day:

Little Christmas (or Three Kings Day, Epiphany, etc.)

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