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History of Montessori Education

Dr. Maria Montessori's first class began in 1907 and consisted of about 50 to 60 children, ages 3 to 6 years old, who lived in the slums of Rome, Italy. She described the ages from three to six years old as being a particularly sensitive time during which young children are especially attuned to acquiring knowledge from and about their environment.

To enrich their experience, Dr. Maria Montessori developed a "prepared environment" of child-sized furniture to adapt the surroundings to the child's natural size and behavior. This helped the children to feel relaxed and comfortable, the environment actually increased the children's desire to learn. She also developed scientifically-developed hands-on educational materials. Through their interaction and experience in this prepared environment, the children developed an extraordinary high level of intellectual and social ability at young ages.

The news of the unprecedented success of Dr. Montessori's work in this 'Casa dei Bambini' (Children's House) soon spread around the world, people coming from far and wide to see for themselves the remarkable educational advances of these children.

Dr. Maria Montessori's renowned Glass Classroom at the 1915 World's Fair Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco. Dr. Montessori is standing in the back of the room wearing a feathered hat.

In 1913, Dr. Montessori was invited to the USA by the renowned Alexander Graham Bell. Among Montessori's supporters were Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, and others who were interested in this new method in education. Alexander Graham Bell and his wife founded the Montessori Educational Association that year, with Alexander Graham Bell as its president.

During her second visit to the U.S. in 1915, Dr. Montessori was invited to participate in the World's Fair Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco, gaining world attention with her "glass house" classroom exhibit. She set up a classroom at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, where spectators watched twenty-one children, all new to this Montessori Method, behind a glass wall for four months in what has become known as “The Glass Classroom.” The only two gold medals awarded for education went to this class, and the education of young children was altered forever.

However, after initial enthusiastic support for the Montessori Method of education, education specialists in the United States made a choice to advance a different method in the public schools in America. The Montessori Method thus did not spread in the USA at that time and instead developed more in Europe and other areas of the world.

That fateful decision to adopt a different system for American education led to what is now the often criticized educational environment and conditions prevalent in United States schools today. Many education advocates now recognize the weaknesses of the traditional American system that was adopted. Many in education and government have issued repeated calls for educational reform and overhaul of the American educational system.

In 1953, a young teacher named Nancy McCormick Rambusch was in search of alternatives to traditional American schooling. Her quest took her to Paris for the Tenth International Montessori Congress, where she met Mario Montessori, the son of Dr. Maria Montessori, who was her successor and leader of the Montessori Movement. Mario urged Rambusch to take coursework in Montessori education and to bring the Montessori Method to the U.S.

Rambusch embraced this idea, and within a few years she was conducting Montessori classes for her own children and others in her New York City apartment. In September 1958, in collaboration with a group of prominent Catholic families, she opened Whitby School in Greenwich, Connecticut.

By 1960, an American revival of Montessori education began to take shape, with Nancy McCormick Rambusch as one of its initial leaders. What followed was the development of the American Montessori movement with numerous Montessori advocates, leaders and organizations; high quality Montessori teacher training centers throughout the nation.

In 1976, a group of Montessori teachers met to unite their efforts in support of Montessori education in Louisiana by founding the Louisiana Montessori Association (LMA). That same year, Louisiana moved to the forefront of American Montessori education when the Louisiana legislature authorized the LMA to certify nonpublic Montessori schools and teachers in Louisiana.

In the years following, through the subsequent efforts and leadership of Montessori educators and leaders, Louisiana has become a leader in Montessori education in the United States in providing for a State recognized and accredited Louisiana Nonpublic Montessori School System (consisting of nonpublic Montessori schools and nonpublic Montessori teachers in Louisiana). Louisiana is unique in the United States in that it has a Montessori Association that works alongside the Department of Education to assure state approved quality standards in Montessori education, resulting in State accredited nonpublic Montessori schools and State credentialed nonpublic Montessori teachers.

Dr. Maria Montessori's work is enduring. The original Casa dei Bambini opened in Rome in 1907. Montessori education continues today in thousands of Montessori schools throughout the United States and around the world. It is international in scope with Montessori schools in at least 110 countries. Montessori schools can be found in rural, urban, and suburban settings; in working-class towns, affluent communities, and even remote villages

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Maria Montessori was a devout Catholic, so a lot of her theories are steeped in faith. She viewed the child as a spiritual being. Dr. Maria Montessori aimed for the fullest possible development of the human potential as a preparation for life. She saw learning as a dynamic process in which the whole personality of the child must be actively engaged. In order to educate the WHOLE child, she taught that the child must be given freedom to develop physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.

Dr. Montessori realized that the only valuable impulse to learning is the self-motivation of the child, without which the child ceases to learn effectively. The teacher prepares the environment, directs the activities, functions as the guide and offers the child stimulation. The teacher then stays back and observes as the child begins to reveal herself through “work”, which becomes the motivating force behind the child's quest for knowledge.