Maria Montessori was a physician, educator and innovator, acclaimed for her educational method that builds on the way children naturally learn. She was the first woman to practice medicine in Italy, graduating from the Faculty of Medicine at the University in Rome in1896. Maria’s early medical practice focused on psychiatry and she became profoundly interested in the way young children learn and develop. Through careful observation she became aware that children construct their own personalities through interaction with their environment. She worked with children of all races, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds and saw that human beings follow similar patterns of development worldwide.
She opened the first Montessori school—the Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House—a childcare center in a poor inner-city district in Rome on January 6, 1907. The children were unruly at first, but soon showed great interest in working with puzzles, learning to prepare meals, and manipulating materials that held lessons in math. She observed how they absorbed knowledge from their surroundings, essentially teaching themselves. Maria Montessori designed learning materials and a classroom environment that fostered the children’s natural desire to learn. She lectured in many countries around the world and wrote extensively about her approach to education. There are now more than 22,000 Montessori schools in at least 110 countries worldwide.