THE HISTORY OF THE MONTESSORI MOVEMENT
Over 100 years ago, an Italian physician inspired the birth of a worldwide educational movement. Dr. Maria Montessori, one of Italy’s first female physicians, became interested in education while caring for mentally challenged children in a psychiatric clinic in Rome. There she combined sensory-rich environments and hands-on experiential techniques in the hopes of reaching children previously labeled “deficient and insane.” The experiment was a resounding success. Within two years, the children were able to pass Italy’s standardized public school tests. More importantly, Montessori’s innovative practices had elicited positive learning behaviors from children previously left behind by society.
In 1907, Montessori continued shaping her learning model by opening “A Children’s House” for pre-school children living in the slums of San Lorenzo. With her scientific background to guide her, she observed how young people learned best when engaged in purposeful activity rather than simply being fed information. She drew upon her clinical understanding of children’s cognitive growth and development in constructing an educational framework that would respect individuality and fulfill the needs of the “whole child.” Dr. Montessori’s pioneering work created a blueprint for nurturing all children –learning disabled to gifted—to become the self-motivated, independent and life-long learners that are the ultimate goal of today’s educational reform movement.
Since that time, Montessori’s philosophy, materials and practices have spread around the globe and have been implemented in a variety of cultural settings and through all levels of schooling. Following Dr. Montessori’s death in 1952, the practice enjoyed a renaissance in America as parents sought new learning options for their children. In 1960, parent and teacher Dr. Nancy McCormick Rambusch founded the American Montessori Society (AMS) to meet an overwhelming public demand for more information on Montessori education and more school locations.
Today, Dr. Montessori’s visionary ideas flourish as the cornerstone of a thriving educational practice. There are thousands of Montessori schools in the U.S. including hundreds of programs in public and charter schools, where the interest in enrollment often results in long waiting lists. However, because any school can call itself “Montessori” – there is no trademark on the name – AMS can only vouch for the authenticity of the programs as practiced in schools that are members of the Society.
As more and more schools incorporated core elements of her model—multi-age classrooms, early childhood education— Montessori became widely recognized as being ahead of her time. Remarkably, her visionary ideas remain viable concepts that have profoundly influenced the entire educational landscape.