Maria Montessori did not anticipate creating a revolution in education. In fact, the education of children was not on her mind at all!
She was born in Italy in 1870 and grew up in Rome. As a young child she had an insatiable appetite to know the world, and all areas of life fascinated her. At the time, it was unheard of that females would go beyond elementary school level, bur Maria Montessori insisted on finishing Secondary school and then went on to University to enter the field of medicine. She did not let the fact that there had never been a female physician in Italy before put her off.
Maria Montessori was forced to do her anatomy dissections alone at night by candlelight since it was considered unseemly for a woman to be in the presence of a body while men were present. Even though she encountered various difficult gender discrimination challenges, she went on to become the first female Italian physician.
Once qualified Maria Montessori spent time working in psychiatric clinics. Here she became interested in the plight of the mentally handicapped, and whilst facilities and amenities were appalling, she was moved by the barrenness of the patients’ lives.
She studied the works of Jean-Marc Itard and Seguin, both innovative thinkers of the time, and using their ideas as a springboard, came up with her own plans for creating a stimulating environment for the mentally retarded. Her mentally retarded children passed state examinations usually written by the children in the regular schools and they even out-performed the regular children. These phenomenal results brought world-wide attention and recognition to Maria Montessori.
Maria Montessori then turned her attention to the education of normal children. She felt that the goal of education was “the development of a complete human being, oriented to the environment, and adapted to his or her time, place and culture.”
Maria Montessori’s discoveries have had a direct, lasting effect on education. Much of the world, excited and convinced by her work, followed her teachings and founded what came to be called the “Montessori Method” and took her ideas to many countries around the world.
Due to Maria Montessori's extensive travel, there are now hundreds of Montessori schools and training centres are found worldwide.