Maria Montessori

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Maria Montessori
BirthplaceChiaravalle (Ancona), Italy
Physician and educator
EducationUniversity of Rome La Sapienza Medical School
Known for Founder of the Montessori method of education

Montessori, Maria

(märē`ä mōntās-sô`rē), 1870–1952, Italian educator and physician. She was the originator of the Montessori method of education for young children and was the first woman to receive (1894) a medical degree in Italy.

After working with subnormal children as a psychiatrist at the Univ. of Rome, Dr. Montessori was appointed (1898) director of the Orthophrenic School. There she pioneered in the instruction of retarded children, especially through the use of an environment rich in manipulative materials. In 1901 she left the school to embark on further study and to serve (1901–7) as lecturer in pedagogical anthropology at the Univ. of Rome. The success of her program at the Orthophrenic School, however, led her to believe that similar improvements could be made in the education of normal preschool children, and in 1907 she opened the first case dei bambini [children's house] as a day-care center in the San Lorenzo district of Rome. The success of this venture led Montessori and her followers to establish similar institutions in other parts of Europe and in the United States, where the first Montessori school was established (1912) in Tarrytown, N.Y.

In 1929 the Association Montessori Internationale was established to further the Montessori method by sponsoring conventions and training courses for teachers. By this time, however, interest in Montessori education had declined in a number of countries, especially the United States, mainly because of opposition from those who felt that the method was destructive of school discipline. The Montessori method experienced a renaissance in many American schools during the late 1950s, and in 1960 the American Montessori Society was formed.

The Montessori Method

The chief components of the Montessori method are self-motivation and autoeducation. Followers of the Montessori method believe that a child will learn naturally if put in an environment containing the proper materials. These materials, consisting of "learning games" suited to a child's abilities and interests, are set up by a teacher-observer who intervenes only when individual help is needed. In this way, Montessori educators try to reverse the traditional system of an active teacher instructing a passive class. The typical classroom in a Montessori school consists of readily available games and toys, household utensils, plants and animals that are cared for by the children, and child-sized furniture—the invention of which is generally attributed to Dr. Montessori. Montessori educators also stress physical exercise, in accordance with their belief that motor abilities should be developed along with sensory and intellectual capacities. The major outlines of the Montessori system are based on Dr. Montessori's writings, which include The Montessori Method (1912), Pedagogical Anthropology (1913), The Advanced Montessori Method (2 vol., 1917), and The Secret of Childhood (1936).


See E. M. Standing, Maria Montessori (1958, repr. 1962) and The Montessori Revolution (1966); biography by R. Kramer (1983).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Montessori, Maria


Born Aug. 31, 1870, in Chiaravalle near Ancona; died May 6, 1952, in Noordwijk aan Zee, the Netherlands. Italian educator.

Montessori graduated in 1896 from the University of Rome, where she was one of the first women to receive a doctor of medicine degree. As an assistant in the university’s psychiatric clinic, she worked with mentally retarded children. She was a professor of anthropology and hygiene at the Higher Women’s School (1900–08) and a lecturer in pedagogical anthropology at the University of Rome (1904–08).

Montessori sharply criticized the traditional school of pedagogy for its drill method of teaching and for ignoring the child’s natural curiosity. Elementary school, in her opinion, should be a laboratory for the study of child psychology. She developed an original system for the sensory development of children in specialized preschool institutions (the “children’s houses “opened by her and by her disciples) and in elementary schools. In theory and in practice she adhered to the idea of freedom for the child in its upbringing.

When the fascist regime was established in Italy, Montessori left the country. She founded schools offering her method of instruction in the USA, France, Great Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, India, and other countries. She also organized international congresses and protested against war. After World War II she returned to Italy.


In Russian translation:
Rukovodstvo k moemu metodu. Moscow, 1961.
Metod nauchnoipedagogiki, primeniaemyi k detskomu vospitaniiu v “domakh rebenka, “4th ed. Moscow, 1920.
Samovospitanie i samoobuchenie v nachal’noi shkole. Moscow, 1922.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.