Dr. Maria Montessori was born on 31st August 1870 in Italy. As a teenager she had a keen interest in Mathematics. Her parents suggested her to take up teaching, which was the only career, open for women at that time. But Dr. Montessori refused even to consider that option and joined an engineering college. Later she found that she was more interested in biology and joined Medicine, which was a horror during those days. She was the only girl in her class and faced lot of problems among boys. Finally in 1896, she became the first woman in Italy to receive the degree of Doctor of Medicine.
After her graduation she was appointed as an assistant doctor, in a psychiatric clinic. As a part of her work she had to visit the asylums for insane in order to select, the suitable subjects, for the clinic. It was at this juncture that she came in contact with the deficient children. The deficient children were herded along with the insane like prisoners in small rooms during those days. The rooms were absolutely bare there was nothing in the rooms to keep them occupied. The piteous condition of these children waiting for their food touched the heart of Dr. Maria Montessori.
One day as she was passing these rooms, she saw the children throwing the food offered to them on the floor. As she was watching they started eating the food crumbs from the floor. This surprised her and made her discover that it was the way children had found to use their hands and intelligence. The more she studied these children the more she became convinced that the mental deficiency was a pedagogy problem than medical.
In 1898, in a Pedagogical Congress, Dr. Maria Montessori presented a paper on “Moral Education” and said that the deficient children were not extra-social beings and they need education as much as normal children. This notion was so new that the education minister present at the congress invited her to give a series of lectures and start a school for feeble minded children. Dr. Maria Montessori worked intensely, studying the works of Dr. Itard and Dr. Seguin’s works, training teachers and preparing pedagogic materials for children. By the end of two years some of the deficient children learnt to read and write. Some of them even wrote the examination of the normal children fared well. This made people think that Dr. Maria Montessori had done some magic and appreciated her. But Dr. Maria Montessori dismissed the credit politely and said that it was not the level of deficient children had increased, it was the level of normal children that had gone down. This made Dr. Montessori decide to work with normal children.
The opportunity to work with normal children did not come to Dr. Montessori in the way she wanted. In 1906, a construction company approached her to take care of the children of its workers, while their parents were away at work. Thus on 6th January 1907, Casa-dei-bambini, means House of Children, was started, for the children between 3 and 6 years.
Casa-dei-bambini gave rise to a method, which was inspired by the principles of scientific pedagogy. Each child was studied from the anthropological standpoint. The children were helped indirectly on the basis of work done by them. Casa-dei-bambini had the activities related to daily life, activities for systematic training of senses, language and Mathematics. The teaching was objective and through an unusual wealth of didactic material. This showed the true nature of the child, which was unknown until then. People were mesmerized by the way the children worked and developed. Dr. Montessori was not satisfied with these results. She wanted to experiment further and find out whether it was a universal phenomenon. Many Montessori schools opened throughout the world in developed, developing and under developed countries and followed the same results.
In 1909 Dr. Maria Montessori’s book “The Montessori Method” was published and within a few days it got translated to almost all languages of the world. In 1916, she inaugurated a Montessori Teachers Training Course in London. In 1926 “Association Montessori Internationale” was founded in Elsinore. Twice her name was referred for Nobel Prize for peace. Italy showed its due respect to the great scientist, pedagogy and anthropologist Dr. Maria Montessori, by printing her picture in its currency.