Dr. Maria Montessori's first class began in 1907 and consisted of between 50 and 60 children ages 3 to 6 years old who lived in the slums of Rome.
To enrich their experience, Dr. 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 feel relaxed and comfortable, serving to increase the children's desire to learn. She also developed specialized, hands-on educational materials. Through their interaction and experience in this prepared environment, even these at-risk students developed an extraordinarily high level of intellectual and social ability at young ages.
The news of the unprecedented success of Dr. Montessori's work in her Casa dei Bambini (Children's House) spread around the world, with people coming from far and wide to see the remarkable educational advances of these children.
In 1913, the renowned Alexander Graham Bell invited Dr. Montessori to the United States for a lecture series. Also among Montessori's early supporters were Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, and Woodrow Wilson's daughter Margaret. Alexander Graham Bell and his wife founded the Montessori Educational Association that year, with Bell as its president.
In 1915, Dr. Montessori’s classroom exhibit at the World's Fair in San Francisco gained worldwide attention. Spectators watched 21 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.
After initial enthusiastic support for the Montessori method of education, education specialists in the United States chose to adopt a different method in American public schools. While Montessori education became more prevalent in Europe and elsewhere around the globe, its development in the US stalled. This decision led in part to the often-criticized educational environment and conditions in the United States today. Many education advocates now recognize weaknesses in the traditional American system that was adopted and have issued repeated calls for educational reform.
By 1960, an American revival of Montessori education had begun to take shape, with a young teacher named Nancy McCormick Rambusch as one of its initial leaders. In her quest to find alternatives to traditional American schooling, Rambusch traveled to Paris and met Mario Montessori, who encouraged her to study the Montessori method and replant its seeds in the US. What followed was the development of the American Montessori movement with numerous Montessori advocates, leaders, and organizations developing high quality Montessori teacher training centers throughout the nation.
Dr. Montessori's work is enduring. Today, over a million children are educated by around 5,000 Montessori schools in the United States alone.
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 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 ensure state-approved quality standards in Montessori education.