Childhood Studies Maria Montessori
Patricia Giardiello
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0266


Maria Montessori (b. 1870–d. 1952), was an Italian pioneer in early childhood education and renowned as the founder of the Montessori method. In 1896, after completing her medical degree, specializing in psychiatry, a choice based on her passion for scientific research and the social implications of psychological research, Montessori began her work in the public medical clinics and soon became the director of the first “Scuola Magistrale Ortofrenica” for children with special educational needs. It was here, following the success of her pupils who achieved as well in their exams as typically developing pupils, that Montessori lay down the foundations of her pedagogical approach to education. It was in this role that she was invited to direct the educational activities of the “Case dei bambini,” Children’s Houses in the working-class area of San Lorenzo, Rome. The establishment of the Children’s Houses, which were part of a large-scale restructuring of the existing overcrowded tenements, provided Montessori with an opportunity to create a “real experimental laboratory” in which to observe children closely and develop what she referred to as a revolutionary new pedagogy, which later became known as the Montessori method. Montessori held the belief that her new pedagogy would also be the source of a more radical transformation of society. She viewed the education of young children as both a socializing and liberating force: with the establishment of Children’s Houses, women would be liberated, and children would no longer prevent women from working and reaching their full potential. The overarching guiding principle of Montessori’s revolutionary pedagogical approach is freedom and structure. Montessori demonstrated that within a carefully structured environment, children could be free to teach themselves, first through the senses and then through the intellect. A unique feature of the Montessori method is the didactic sensorial materials, and with her scientific training and constructivist leanings, Montessori produced equipment that was methodologically designed to exploit the progressive order in which children develop. However, the mere presence of the materials would not be enough for Montessori, who believed that only under proper guidance from specifically trained teachers would they be educationally effective. This rested on the principles of recognizing children’s growth at crucial developmental moments, which Montessori referred to as Sensitive Periods.

General Overview

Maria Montessori died in Noordwijk, Netherlands, in 1952, but her work lives on through the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), which she founded in the Netherlands in 1929 to carry on her work. She was also a prolific writer. Returning to the University of Rome as a student of philosophy in 1902, Montessori produced her first major work, Pedagogical Anthropology, which was translated into English in 1913. In April 1912, Montessori published the first of many editions of The Montessori Method, soon translated into all the major world languages, in which she describes in detail her insights regarding the education of these young children in her schools. The worldwide implementation of the Montessori method and her international reputation as an advocate for children’s rights and well-being continue to generate much interest among educationists, resulting in a plethora of written material. These generally fall into three categories: The Montessori Method and Its Scientific Pedagogic Profile; Montessori’s Overarching Philosophy, Encompassing Education for Peace and Sustainability; and Discussions and Debates about Montessori’s Radical Approaches. Because of this, the bibliography has adopted these three categories as headings, along with a final heading, Biographies.

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