Dr. Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870. She began her professional life not as an educator but as a doctor of medicine – the first woman physician in Italy. After extensive experience in private practice, hospital work and research, she undertook postgraduate studies in multiple fields – education, philosophy, psychology and anthropology – as a basis for her growing commitment to education.
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 engendered greater interest than toys. 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 believe 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.