Dr. Maria Montessori, born in 1870, was the first women in Italy to earn a medical degree. In her work at the University of Rome psychiatric clinic, Dr. Montessori developed an interest in the treatment of special needs children and, for several years, she worked, wrote, and spoke on their behalf. Then, in 1907, Maria Montessori was given the opportunity to study “typical” children, by opening a school for the children of desperately poor families in the San Lorenzo slums of Rome. She called it “Casa dei Bambini” (Children’s House) and based the program on her observations that young child best learn to be self-motivated, independent learners in a social environment which supports and respects each individual’s unique development. Montessori believed that each child is born with a special potential to be revealed, rather than a “blank slate” waiting to be written upon. Montessori’s dynamic theories included such innovative premises as:
- Children are to be respected as different from adults and as individuals who are different from one another.
- Children create themselves through purposeful activity.
- The most important years for learning are from birth to age six.
- Children possess unusual sensitivity and mental powers for absorbing and learning from their environment, which includes people, as well as materials.
Since her death in 1952, an interest in Dr. Montessori’s methods have continued to spread throughout the world. Her message to those who emulated her was always to turn one’s attention to the child, to “follow the child.”