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She was born in Chiaravalle (Ancona), Italy. Montessori was the first female Italian physician in the modern era. As such, she was given a "menial" task: to try to educate the "mentally retarded" and the "uneducable" in Rome. She opened her first school, in Rome, on January 6, 1907.
The Montessori method of education that she derived from this experience has subsequently been applied successfully to children and is quite popular in many parts of the world. Despite much criticism of her method in the early 1930s-1940s, her method of education has been applied and has undergone a revival. It can now be found on six continents and throughout the United States.
By 1907 Montessori had established the first Casa di Bambini or Children's House, in Rome. By 1913, there was an intense interest in her method in North America, which later waned. (Nancy McCormick Rambusch revived the method in America by establishing the American Montessori Society in 1960.) Montessori was exiled by Mussolini to India, there influencing many religious groups, for the duration of World War II, mostly because she refused to compromise her principles and make the children into soldiers. Montessori lived out the remainder of her life in the Netherlands, which is now the headquarters of the AMI, or Association Montessori Internationale. She died in Noordwijk aan Zee. Her son Mario headed the AMI until his death in 1982.
Aside from a new pedagogy, among the premier contributions to educational thought by Montessori are:
- instruction of children in 3-year age groups, corresponding to sensitive periods of development (example: Birth-3, 3-6, 6-9, and 9-12 year olds with an Erdkinder (German for "land children") program for early teens)
- children as competent beings, encouraged to make maximal decisions
- observation of the child in the environment as the basis for ongoing curriculum development (presentation of subsequent exercises for skill development and information accumulation)
- child-sized furniture and creation of a child-sized environment (microcosm) in which each can be competent to produce overall a self-running children's world
- parent participation to include basic and proper attention to health screening and hygiene as a prerequisite to schooling
- delineation of a scale of sensitive periods of development, which provides a focus for class work that is appropriate and uniquely stimulating and motivating to the child (including sensitive periods for language development, sensorial experimentation and refinement, and various levels of social interaction)
- the importance of the "absorbent mind," the limitless motivation of the young child to achieve competence over his or her environment and to perfect his or her skills and understandings as they occur within each sensitive period. The phenomenon is characterized by the young child's capacity for repetition of activities within sensitive period categories (Example: exhaustive babbling as language practice leading to language competence).
- self-correcting "auto-didactic" materials (some based on work of Itard and Seguin)
Through the 1990s, Maria Montessori was pictured on the Italian 200 lire coin and the 1000 lire bill, by far the most common one, replacing Marco Polo, until Italy adopted the Euro.
- International Montessori Index of schools, teachers, materials, method, teacher training, preschools
- Association Montessori Internationale
- e-text of The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori
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