One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.
– Dr. Maria Montessori
Maria Montessori was born in 1870, and as a child fell in love with science. She went to school at the University of Rome, she heavily focused on pediatrics and psychiatry and in 1896 was the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome as a doctor of medicine.
After graduation, she continued her research with the school’s psychiatric unit. As part of her work, she visited orphanages in Rome where she observed children in their natural state of learning, observations which were fundamental to her future educational work. Her primary focus at this time was to uncover the secrets of childhood learning and to identify the key elements associated with positive learning.
In 1906 Montessori was invited to oversee the care and education of a group of children of working parents in a new apartment building for low-income families in the San Lorenzo district in Rome. Montessori was interested in applying her work and methods to children in the field, and she accepted. She opened her first school enrolling 50 or 60 children between the ages of two or three and six or seven.
In this first classroom, Montessori observed behaviors in these young children which formed the foundation of her educational method. Given free choice of activity, the children showed more interest in practical activities and Montessori’s materials than in toys provided for them. Over time, she saw a spontaneous self-discipline emerge.
She felt by working independently children could reach new levels of autonomy and become self-motivated to reach new levels of understanding. Montessori also came to believe that acknowledging all children as individuals and treating them as such would yield better learning and fulfilled potential in each particular child.
She continued to adapt and refine the materials she had developed earlier, altering or removing exercises which were chosen less frequently by the children. Also based on her observations, Montessori experimented with allowing children free choice of the materials, uninterrupted work, and freedom of movement and activity within the limits set by the environment. She began to see independence as the aim of education and the role of the teacher as an observer and director of children’s innate psychological development.
Dr. Montessori continued her work and spreading her Montessori Method throughout the world for the rest of her life. There have been several variations and changes added to her work over time, but the tenements of her method have remained. Children learn better through self-discovery and the freedom to choose. The Montessori Method helps to promote creativity, critical thinking, and leadership skills.