Birth of a Movement
Dr. Montessori's early medical practice focused on psychiatry. She also developed an interest in education, attending classes on pedagogy and immersing herself in educational theory. Her studies led her to observe, and call into question, the prevailing methods of teaching children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The opportunity to improve on these methods came in 1900, when she was appointed co-director of a new training institute for special education teachers. Dr. Montessori approached the task scientifically, carefully observing and experimenting to learn which teaching methods worked best. Many of the children made unexpected gains, and the program was proclaimed a success.
In 1907 Dr. Montessori accepted a new challenge to open a childcare center in a poor, inner-city district. This became the first Casa dei Bambini, a quality learning environment for young children. The youngsters were unruly at first, but soon showed great interest in working with puzzles, learning to prepare meals and manipulating materials that held lessons in math. She observed how they absorbed knowledge from their surroundings, essentially teaching themselves. Utilizing scientific observation and experience gained from her earlier work with young children, Dr. Montessori designed learning materials and a classroom environment that fostered the children’s natural desire to learn. Her unique philosophy sparked the interest of educators worldwide and, in the following decades, Montessori schools opened throughout Europe, in North and South America and, finally, on every continent but Antarctica.
Countless books and articles about Montessori have been published in nearly every language. Dr. Montessori first described her approach in Il Metodo della Pedagogia Scientifica applicato all’educazione infantile nelle Case dei Bambini, published in 1909. The book’s English-language version, succinctly titled The Montessori Method, was a ringing success on both sides of the Atlantic.
In 1929, Dr. Montessori established the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) to support the swell of Montessori schools, teacher education programs and national organizations around the world.
In the United States, Montessori caught on quickly, propelled by prominent advocates and glowing media reports. However, by the 1920s the movement had fizzled, and 40 years would go by before Montessori schools would return in substantial numbers. The leader of the American revival was Nancy McCormick Rambusch, a vibrant, persuasive educator intent on bringing about change. In 1960, Dr. Rambusch launched the American Montessori Society, the first—and still the largest—of several modern-era organizations supporting Montessori programs in America.