Born 31st August 1870 in Chiaravalle, Ancona, Italy, Maria Montessori grew up as the only child of educated parents. Because of his military profession, her father, Alessandro, was often transferred, giving Maria unequalled opportunity of education in larger Italian cities. Unlike Alessandro, her mother, Renilde Stoppani, was less conservative supporting Maria’s strong, lively character and unconventional convictions.
Maria was not an outstanding student at the start of school, but honoured, nevertheless, for her good behaviour and so-called women’s work. At secondary level, she opted to attend a predominantly male technical school where she made good grades, excelling in science and more particularly in mathematics. The results of this skill can be seen in the outstanding maths equipment and exercises found in Montessori Kindergartens today.
The free spirited Maria at first planned to study engineering but eventually applied for medicine. She graduated 1896 with distinction and was celebrated as the very first female, Italian doctor.
Montessori’s specialism was pediatrics and psychiatry. After graduating from medical university, she worked at hospitals in Rome gaining much contact to children of the poor and working class. Besides diagnosis and treatment, Maria secured all round care for her patients including warmth and food.
Some of her work gave Maria entry to institutes for the mentally disabled where she found many children in dreadful conditions; unloved and uncared for. She was convinced that the lack of care and stimulus stunted and possibly even stopped healing or development.
Researching child mental retardation, Montessori discovered works of 19th century French doctors, Itard and Seguin. Itard worked with ‘deaf mutes’ and is still known for his work with ‘The wild boy of Aveyron,’ a boy probably abandoned living in a forest. Seguin, an Itard student, worked with the...