Maria Montessori was the first woman to practice medicine in Italy. A scholar of biology, psychiatry, anthropology, and medicine, she graduated from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Rome in 1896. As a physician, Dr. Montessori was in touch with young children and became profoundly interested in their development. Through careful and exhaustive scrutiny, she realized that children construct their own personalities as they interact with their environment. She also observed the way they learned as they spontaneously chose and worked with the auto didactic materials she provided.
Dr. Montessori studied children in many countries around the world, soon seeing the universality of the laws of human development. She continued her observations throughout her life, widening and deepening her understanding until her death in 1952. Also a devoted humanitarian, she was three-times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy efforts toward a more peaceful humanity.
Maria Montessori was a scientist, and as a good scientist, she was earth-bound and highly spiritual in her pursuit of truth. Through her studies of educational methods, she declared two principles as the foundation of Montessori pedagogy: the universal characteristics of the human child, and the child as a unique, unrepeatable, respectable, and admirable individual to be unconditionally accepted as one of life’s most marvelous expressions.
In San Lorenzo, Italy, 1906, Dr. Montessori opened the first 'Casa dei Bambini', or Children's House. Her scientific observations and deep understanding of child development have stood the test of time. Unlike educational fads that come and go, Montessori has been on the cutting edge of education for over 100 years.
In the early days of Dr. Maria Montessori as a pediatrician and educator, she was asked to educate children in the slums of Italy, a place known as ‘Casa Dei Bambini’. Children of various ages roaming the streets were branded as ‘not teachable’ and ‘unable to learn’. Dr. Montessori believed that every child can learn, and it is up to the guide (teacher) to identify how each child learns, and what they need to be able to learn.
And, to the surprise of the Italian government and educational authorities, she proved everyone wrong! Dr. Montessori demonstrated the knowledge and skills these children acquired, even just over a short period of time. And their success in learning was due to her resourcefulness, observation and determination for all children to reach their own unique potential.
Dr. Montessori believed in peace, and she firmly felt that in order to have a peaceful society, the whole child — physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual — must be addressed.
In other words, the primary goal of education is to develop the skills necessary to lead a productive, happy, and fulfilling life.
The more Maria worked with children, the more she saw the creative presence of God within them. A subtitle of a chapter in The Child in the Church (Montessori, 1965, 4) reads, "God Created The Child More Admirable Than We Think."