Many parents visit Fishtown Montessori with questions they have heard about the Montessori Method. Having your child attend a Montessori school will benefit them greatly, especially later in life, when they need practical skills and critical thinking to succeed. But where did Montessori begin? What is the history of Montessori education and why should you know it?
Knowing where the philosophy and methodology came from will not only give you a better understanding of how it works, but it will also deepen your appreciation of Montessori education. So let’s get started.
The Founding Years of Montessori
Dr. Maria Montessori, the founder of Montessori, was an Italian physician, scientist, and educator. Above all, she was a progressive thinker who saw a need for a different kind of education. In 1906, Maria Montessori was invited to develop a childcare center in San Lorenzo, one of the poorest districts of Rome at the time. She was tasked with educating some of the most disadvantaged and uneducated children in the area.
She named her first schoolhouse Casa dei Bambini, or “Children’s House,” and opened the doors in 1907. Following her research, Montessori decided to observe the students for a time. She found that, while the children were initially unruly, they had an interest in preparing their own meals, cleaning their space, and working with puzzles and other learning materials. Once the children became invested in these practices, they were no longer out of control but calm and able to concentrate for longer periods of time.
These observations became the core of her Montessori Method. She later designed materials specifically for the children to use during lessons—some models are still used today—and worked to create a prepared environment that boosted the children’s confidence and curiosity.
Maria Montessori soon had three schools in Italy by the end of 1907. Dignitaries from the country started to travel to her schools to see the “miracle children” at work. Many educators, some from as far away as South America, began visiting Dr. Montessori to learn from her.
In 1909, Dr. Montessori completed her first major book, Il Metodo della Pedagogia Scientifica applicato all’educazione infantile nelle Case dei Bambini. In 3 years, the book was printed in 10 different languages. When the first 5,000 copies of The Montessori Method was released in English, it sold out in 4 days.
In 1910, dozens of Montessori schools were being established in Europe. In 1911, the United States saw its first Montessori school open its doors.
Research on the Montessori method poured in, calling Dr. Montessori a wonder-worker in early childhood education. Amid the fame, Dr. Montessori did not stop working. She decided to continue her scientific work with elementary school students (between ages 7 and 11) this time and ended up publishing a second book, The Advanced Montessori Method, in 1917.
In 1929, having studied early childhood, the elementary school years, and adolescence, Maria Montessori decided to launch the Association Montessori Internationale alongside her son, Mario.
Montessori in the USA
In the United States, the Montessori method gained rapid popularity. However, the first notable difference was that, unlike Casa dei Bambini being for the underprivileged, the first Montessori school in the USA was for wealthy children.
Dr. Montessori first arrived in the US in 1913 while on a lecture tour. The main stop was in Washington, D.C., where she drew a crowd of over 400 people, including Margaret Wilson, President Woodrow Wilson’s daughter. The next crowd, at Carnegie Hall in NYC drew 1,000 people.
In 1915, Dr. Montessori appeared at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, where she constructed the Glass Classroom. Contained within the glass walls was a prepared environment for students who, uncaring of the people looking in on them, were concentrating on their tasks.
Such lectures and experiments like the Glass Classroom caused interest in Montessori education to explode. By the end of 1916, over 100 Montessori schools had opened in the US.
The Criticism and Resurgence of Montessori Education
During the middle of the 20th century, all progress in the world stuttered. World War I, language barriers, anti-immigrant protests, and disdain for influential scientists and leaders caused the Montessori Movement to lose traction.
Due to the criticism of William Kilpatrick, who openly berated the Montessori Method, including Montessori’s use of materials, her thoughts on the role of the teacher, and her credentials, played a role in the downfall of the Montessori method in the US between the 1920s and 40s.
However, in the 1950s, when the Montessori schools of the US had nearly faded away, a young and inspired New York City educator named Nancy McCormick Rambusch stumbled upon the Montessori Method. Captivated by Montessori’s work, Nancy Rambusch traveled to a Montessori Conference in Paris, France. Having met Mario, Maria’s son, she decided to bring Montessori back to the US.
From Rambusch’s efforts from there on out, the American Montessori Society was founded.
The Montessori Method Today
What began over 100 years ago has now taken a firm hold of the educational system throughout the globe, including the US. The Montessori Method is thriving, and the Montessori education has never been more highly regarded.
The Montessori education has been tailored to suit communities, age groups, and even utilized for children with handicaps and other exceptionalities. Research continues to highlight the importance of a Montessori education for students of all learning capabilities and socioeconomic status.
You could say that Montessori education is here to stay—and that it is reshaping the face of education throughout the world.
Looking For a Montessori School in Philadelphia?
Montessori education has always been focused on the child first, and it will continue to do so. Within the Montessori classroom, Dr. Montessori’s philosophies on learning continue to guide the teachers throughout the day. Children are given Freedom Within Limits and can use their time as they choose. Plus, they can engage in the activities that interest them the most.
Montessori education will continue to evolve and improve throughout the years. Want your child to have a lifelong love of learning and practical skills? See what makes Fishtown Montessori shine. Schedule a virtual tour with us today. We can’t wait to meet you.