Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori is a name often heard in educational circles all over the world. She is best known today for bringing us the Montessori system of education. But there is more to her life story than just that. Let’s get a glimpse into her life.

Early Years

So like the song Do Re Mi from the “Sound of Music”, let’s start at the very beginning. Maria Montessori was born on 31st August 1870, in the town of Chiaravalle, Italy. Her father was an accountant in the civil service and her mother, Renilde Stoppani was well educated lady for her time. Her father’s work led them to shift from Chiaravalle to Florence and then to Rome. Maria was enrolled in a school there and she excelled at science and mathematics.

Career In Medicine

On graduating from secondary school, breaking conventional barriers, she decided to become a doctor, which was unheard of then – a woman entering the field of Medicine.

When her dad heard this, he said, “No, girls become nurses and teachers, not doctors”. She still approached Guido Baccelli, the professor of Medicine at the University of Rome, who flatly refused her application. Did she give up? No! The “go –getter” that she was, she approached H.H.Pope Leo XIII, who interceded on her behalf and she finally enrolled into the University of Rome.

Her problems did not end there. She was faced with hostility from other students and the professors. She was not allowed to be in the presence of a naked body with the other male students as it was considered “inappropriate”. Even this didn’t dampen her spirit and the gutsy lady completed her dissertations on cadavers for hours at night by candle light, in spite of the foul smell of formaldehyde. She won an academic award and several scholarships during her course which along with the money she earned through tuitions enabled her to pay for most of her education.

Despite all these hardships and obstacles, she qualified as a doctor in July 1896. The first lady doctor in Italy. This by itself shows us what a gritty person she was. This was just the beginning of her journey and as she stepped on to each rung in the coming phases of her life, it just proved how much more tenacious she was. To jot down her numerous achievements henceforth would be similar to listing out the songs sung by S.P.Balasubrahmanyam; the list would just go on and on.

She began her medical career and was known for treating patients from different social classes equally. She also joined a medical research programme as a volunteer and studied about children with learning disabilities.

Development of the Montessori Method

There was a construction site in the San Lorenzo district where young children ran amok and wreaked havoc on the newly completed buildings while their parents worked all day. Dr. Montessori was sought to keep them engaged. She seized this opportunity and thus was born the first Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House). It was here she observed that children were enamoured by and naturally drawn to routine, day-to-day works such as sweeping and mopping, contrarily were uninterested in the toys given to them. She drew conclusions from what the children showed her in her observations. It is her understanding from observations and unshakable determination that developed into the system of Montessori education. She studied contemporary educationalists and even began to make/procure child sized materials for the children in her Casa and her system soon began to get popular. And the children displayed more focus in their lives.

Soon one Casa dei Bambini became five and the children there too made extraordinary progress. Word spread like fire and within a year, there was one in Switzerland too. Gradually the spread of the new educational approach went worldwide. She even lived in Chennai, India, for almost a decade. Between 1939 and 1949, Maria Montessori conducted sixteen Indian Montessori Training Courses, with the help of her son Mario. This laid a very sound foundation for the Montessori movement in India.

Maria Montessori began to travel and lectured and trained teachers in the Montessori Method in several countries in Europe, Asia and America. Some of her observations and notes were published and it was soon translated into different languages all over the world. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949, 50 and again in 1951. She was an enigma and although she left us in 1952 at the age of 81 her legacy will continue forever for the sake of mankind.