Who Is Maria Montessori – An Educational Legacy

In the words of her student and friend, Dr. Elisabeth Caspari, Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was a great mother of humanity. As a medical doctor who transformed education, Maria Montessori was a phenomenon of nature:

  • Italy’s first female physician and surgeon
  • Ran her own thriving private medical practice
  • Held the Chair of Anthropology at the University of Rome
  • Taught at a women’s college in Rome
  • Developed her own methods for teaching young children
  • Wrote more than a dozen books
  • Traveled the world and trained teachers on four continents
  • Received the highest civilian honors in many nations and three Nobel Peace Prize nominations

Montessori saw every child as a spiritual embryo, and believed that education must be geared toward the whole person and releasing his inner genius: “Man must be educated to realize his greatness and to become worthy of the powers that are his.”

In the late 1940’s she wrote a letter to all the governments of the world in which she wrote:

The child is the forgotten citizen, and yet, if statesmen and educators once came to realize the terrific force that is in childhood for good or for evil, I feel they would give it priority above everything else. All problems of humanity depend on man himself; if man is disregarded in his construction, the problems will never be solved.

Maria Montessori always said her greatest contribution was that she observed children and discovered their true characteristics and the true nature of their work. She found that the work of the child during the early childhood years is the building of the man or woman of tomorrow.

Ever the practical woman, Maria Montessori did more than write about her observations. She started schools and established a system of education based on sound principles that are timeless, because they reflect human nature and an essential timetable of child development that is as valid now as it was 100 years ago. From one single classroom established by Montessori in 1907, there are now tens of thousands of Montessori classrooms. There are Montessori schools on every continent and in nearly every nation on earth.

The essential principles of Montessori education have been applied to every age, from prenatal classes for parents to infant-toddler, early childhood, elementary and secondary classes. Education as “help to life,” as Montessori defined it, applies to all ages at all times.

The Story of Maria Montessori and the Legacy of Age of Montessori

Maria Montessori was teaching her course in India when World War II was declared. She was sent to live in a small rural hill station in Kodikanal, India. Although highly respected throughout the world, as an Italian national she was technically an enemy alien as far as British India was concerned.

Dr. Elisabeth Caspari and her husband Charles, also stranded in India during the war, went to the same rural hill station, where they were able to find work at an American boarding school. Caspari had taken the Montessori course in Adyar, India, in 1941, but now both a professional and a personal friendship developed. The two European ladies, Drs. Montessori and Caspari, soon became fast friends and spent every afternoon together for the next four years.

Caspari says that Montessori was endlessly creative, always trying new things with old materials, and discussing how to understand ideas more deeply. For example, one afternoon they were working with the geometric solids, before Montessori began to roll them. She ground up some chalk, dipped the insets in the chalk and rolled each of them on black paper to investigate what kind of a path each left. This led to a rich discussion of the geometric patterns the movements of the solids revealed.

In 1979 Elisabeth Caspari and Mary Ellen Maunz met, and a fast friendship began between the two women. Caspari was nearing her 80th birthday and Mary Ellen was already a trained Montessorian. Little did either know that this would be one of the significant friendships in their lives, to last more than twenty years.

Authentic Montessori Teacher TrainingIn January 1980, precisely 73 years after Montessori opened her first school, Caspari and Maunz began a training course that was the genesis of Age of Montessori. The course is based faithfully on the materials originally given by Dr. Montessori. They remained close friends and collaborators until Caspari’s passing in 2002 at age 102. For more on their stories, visit About Us.

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