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Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870.  She was a math prodigy, a physicist, and an anthropologist.  At 24 years of age she was the first woman to graduate from the medical school in Rome.  She was a pragmatist, a visionary and a humanitarian; a friend of Gandhi's and Thomas Edison's; a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee.  Her face is on Italy's 1000 lire bill.  Today, we know Maria Montessori best for the educational method that bears her name.

Maria Montessori came to education in a roundabout way.  She was a doctor in a Rome psychiatric clinic and her patients were children from orphanages and asylums across the city.  She saw her patients first and foremost as human beings, and searched for ways to help improve their mental and spiritual (as well as physical) health.  In trying to reach their minds, she made discoveries so fascinating that she left her medical practice.  She applied what she learned, testing and  refining her ideas throughout the rest of her long life.  

Being interested in the end-result of education rather than its method, Montessori focused on developing "a complete human being, oriented to the environment and adapted to his or her time, place and culture."  She worked with no preconceived ideas about how young people should be taught.  She simply observed them, gathering evidence about how their minds worked and formulating tools that responded to their needs.

In 1906, she accepted the challenge to work with a group of sixty children of working parents in the San Lorenzo district of Rome.  It was there that she founded the first Casa dei Bambini, or "Children's House."  What ultimately became the Montessori method of education developed there was based upon Montessori's scientific observations of these children's effortless ability to absorb knowledge  from their surrondings, as well as their tireless interest in manipulating materials.  Every piece of equipment, every exercise, every method Montessori developed was based on what she observed children to do "naturally," by themselves, unassisted by adults.  

Her observations contained groundbreaking insights into human development and cognition - insights that are largely upheld by research today.   We can do no better than introduce her words, and then step aside.  Montessori died in Holland in 1952, but her work continues.  Today there are close to five thousand private and approximately two hundred public Montessori schools in the United States.

Maria Montessori On Teaching:  "A teacher must be consecrated to bettering humanity.  She must be like the vestal who kept the scared fire that others had lighted pure and free from contamination; the teacher must be dedicated to the fire of the inner life in all its purity.  If this flame is neglected, it will be extinguished - never to be lighted again."     

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