About Maria Montessori

Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.

Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori Philosophy, was born in 1870, in 1896 she became Italy’s first woman medical doctor. Her special interest was in children and this led her to study the works of physicians such as Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard who worked at a Paris institution for deaf.

Dr. Montessori believed that observation was just as important in education as in the treatment of the sick, and that the mind developed through the actions of the senses. She pursued this belief by experiments with the mentally defective

In 1906 Maria Montessori opened her first school for 3 to 6 year old children in the slum areas of San Lorenzo, Rome.  She called it ‘Casa dei Bambini’ (The children’s house in Italian). In this school Montessori was now able to apply her methods to normal children. She believed that if her methods achieved such startling results with retarded children then these same methods would improve the performance of normal children. It was soon evident that all children were capable of achieving and becoming independent learners when taught by her methods.

Maria Montessori took on the principal ideas of the ‘Education of the Senses’ and the ‘Education of Movement’ and adapted and developed them into a system that became her own. What she accomplished was to draw together the knowledge and methods from the disciplines of Education and Medicine.

Through methodical observations of the children and their individual needs, she worked out the best means suited to teach them. Those children who had previously been abandoned as incapable of learning to function productively began showing the ability to care for themselves. When these special needs children passed exams on a level with ‘normal’ children, she began questioning the calibre of ‘normal’ education.

The materials for learning were designed to be self-correcting and the children thrived on the activity involved with learning. In observing these children, Dr. Montessori noticed that after doing a particular activity, the children continued working with it over and over again, rather than putting it away. They seemed to work for the sake of working, not for reward. She also introduced reading and writing to these children of illiterate parents. This project marked a turning point in Maria Montessori’s career and life, and would soon cast her in the role of the world’s foremost female educator.

By 1913 there were nearly 100 Montessori schools in America. Currently the United States has three thousand private Montessori Schools and a like number of educational programmes implementing or supplementing with Montessori in their classrooms. The Montessori Method has proven itself both adaptable and beneficial to all socioeconomic levels and specialities within the educational systems.

In 1976 the first Montessori School was opened in South Africa by Mrs. Strilli Oppenheimer. Today there are numerous Montessori schools throughout South Africa as well as in Botswana, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

Maria Montessori drew her ideas about how to educate and work with children from her observations of them at different stages in their development, and from her exposure to children of different cultures. She identified what she saw that was common in all children as the ‘universal characteristics of childhood’, regardless of where children were born or how they were brought up.

Together these ‘Universal Characteristics’ form the core belief upon which the Montessori Philosophy is based and can be summed up as follows:

• All children have absorbent minds

• All children pass through ‘Sensitive Periods’

• All children want to learn