The Fascinating History of Montessori Education, Explained

Montessori education encourages kid to drive their own learning experience. Learn about the fascinating history of Montessori education here.

Education is always modernizing. But the old ways may be best. 

A 2017 study found that students in Montessori schools in Connecticut performed better on measures of academic achievement than non-Montessori students. Other studies suggest similar findings.

Yet many parents shy away from signing their kids up for Montessori. One reason why is that they don’t know the history of Montessori. 

What exactly is Montessori, and what are the benefits of Montessori education? Who was the founder of Montessori? What has been the history of Montessori education in America and other countries? 

Answer these questions and you can make an informed decision about your child’s education. Here is your quick guide. 

What Is Montessori?

The Montessori education method focuses on the development of students’ latent interests. The method is based on the idea that children learn skills through natural interactions with each other. Each child has their own innate path of growth, so education should help them along that path. 

Classrooms combine students of different age groups together. Children are given choices on the activities they want to perform. When they need to do schoolwork, they have long blocks of time to complete their tasks.

Teachers create an environment where students can learn. They organize materials by subject and make them accessible to children.

During work time, they step back and watch how a child performs a task. This lets the teacher propose activities that will help the child develop their inborn skills. 

Teaching materials include letters cut from sandpaper. Children can run their fingers over the letters, feeling their shapes as they recite them out loud. This may help retain their memory of them for years to come. 

The Founder of Montessori

Maria Montessori is the founder of the Montessori approach. She was born in Italy in 1870, and she was educated from an early age.

When she was 13, she went to a technical school, unlike many women in her time. She went to the University of Rome to become a doctor when she was 20 years old. She encountered sexist hostility, but she won academic prizes and acquired a job as a hospital assistant. 

After graduating from the University of Rome in 1896, Dr. Montessori continued to work in hospitals. She focused on working with children with special needs, and she became a national advocate for them.

In 1900, she became co-director at a school for children with special needs. She pioneered a number of educational techniques that she would later use for the Montessori system. She spent much of the early 1900s codifying the system and experimenting with different practices. 

In 1906, Dr. Montessori was asked to help a group of working-class children without special needs. She started a school in Rome called Casa dei Bambini. It opened in 1907, and it was the first Montessori school. 

The school was an immediate success. A second one was opened in Italy, and Dr. Montessori increasingly dedicated her time to disseminating her methods. 

Montessori in America

The Montessori system attracted international recognition starting in 1909. Dr. Montessori wrote papers describing her methods. They were published in magazines all over the world, including in the United States. 

The first Montessori school in the United States opened in 1911 in New York. Within two years, dozens of Montessori schools had opened across the country. Dr. Montessori visited the United States and gave lectures to filled auditoriums. 

But some people opposed her method. Philosophers argued that Montessori was too reliant on sense training and left little room for play. Enthusiasm waned, and most schools shut down before 1920. 

Dr. Montessori returned to Europe to continue her work. It grew in popularity in Europe and India, but it did not resurrect in the United States. 

In 1960, two American teachers educated in Europe returned to the United States. They started the American Montessori Society to disseminate Dr. Montessori’s philosophy. Montessori schools reopened across the country in the decades that followed. 

Montessori in India

Dr. Montessori traveled to India in 1939. Some politicians and educators had expressed interest in her methods, including Rabindranath Tagore. 

As she tried to establish teaching centers in the country, World War II broke out. Montessori and her son were arrested and held as enemy combatants. But she was allowed to continue teaching, and she traveled across the country doing so. 

India proved influential on the Montessori method. Dr. Montessori incorporated material about plants and geography into her curriculum. She developed illustrations and charts alongside Indian children. 

The Modern History of Montessori

Montessori remains more popular in Europe than in the United States. One reason why is the lack of regulation amongst Montessori schools in America. 

Many schools label themselves as having Montessori methods. But some schools combine unscientific practices or use the label to scam others. This deters some parents from enrolling their children in Montessori. 

But the system is strong. There are roughly 4,500 Montessori schools in the United States alone. The number of publicly funded schools has nearly doubled since 2000. 

Other schools are adopting methods and materials from Montessori schools. More schools are using tactile tools to help children learn how to read and write letters. 

The Life and Times of Maria Montessori

The Montessori system helps children develop their natural skills and internal ways of learning. They have hours to get their work done and play with others. 

Dr. Maria Montessori founded the system in the 1900s. It grew quickly across Europe and into the United States. The popularity of the system in America fell off quickly, but it established roots in India. 

But the system has become popular again in America. You can send your child to one of several thousand schools. 

Montessori is just one style of schooling for your child. Find out more by following our coverage. 

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