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Who was Dr. Maria Montessori?

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870 and died in Holland in 1952, after a lifetime devoted to the study of child development. 

Dr. Montessori was a true pioneer. The first woman to qualify in Italy as a doctor of medicine, she became increasingly interested in the needs of children. By 1900 she was Professor of Pedagogy at the University of Rome. Her early work was based on women’s rights and social reform, evolving to encompass a totally innovative approach to education. Her success in Italy led to international recognition, and for over 40 years she travelled all over the world, lecturing, writing and establishing training programmes. In later years, “Educate for Peace” became a guiding principle which underpinned her work.

At the age of 37 she took responsibility for a group of underprivileged children in the San Lorenzo district of Rome - founding her first Children's House (Casa dei Bambini). Her unique approach to these children led to surprising results. She observed that when previously unruly children were provided with experiences which corresponded closely to their stage of development, they easily became absorbed in purposeful activities. Challenging activities stimulated greater interest than toys did. The children generally wished to do things for themselves and were less interested in rewards given for working than in the activity itself. This seemed to her an inherent characteristic of the child. She came to understand that the child's education should proceed in such a way as to provide an environment in which the spontaneous activity of the child would be left free to manifest itself.

The Montessori method was widely acclaimed and accepted. It was soon imitated, often by well-meaning people who did not have the time or the opportunity to study the system in depth. As Montessori developed her theory and practice, she came to believe that education had a role to play in the development of world peace. She felt that children allowed to develop according to their inner laws of development would give rise to a more peaceful and enduring civilization. From the 1930s to the end of her life, she gave a number of lectures and addresses on the subject, saying in 1936, “Preventing conflicts is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education”. She received a total of six nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize in a three year period: 1949, 1950, and 1951.

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