Maria Montessori (1870 - 1952), the first woman doctor in Italy, became interested in education while working with mentally handicapped children in the course of her medical career. She discovered an unsuspected potential in these children after using didactic materials devised by two French doctors, Itard and Seguin.
She elaborated these materials and developed new ones. The results she obtained with the handicapped children were so astonishing, that she had them tested with normal ones of the same ages. The deficient came out ahead, and that is when she realized that something was drastically wrong with the education of the normal child.
She gradually abandoned a successful medical practice and appointment as professor to the University of Rome and dedicated herself totally to the study of human development. The basis of her studies - as most scientists - was observation. She was quoted as saying, “I do not think, I observe.'
She observed indeed, for half a century or more, in Europe, America and Asia, children of all races, cultures and social environments.
She found that they developed according to the same rules, manifesting the same needs and tendencies, at the same time in their life. From this extensive study, a complex of educational philosophy and practices grew that became known as the Montessori method.
In 1907 Maria Montessori opened the first “Casa dei Bambini” in one of the poorest quarters of Rome, with unprecedented results.
In less than a year, fifty children between 3 and 6 years of age, from illiterate families, blossomed to become courteous, self-assured
little people who were working independently, with cheerful self-discipline. They had also begun to read and write spontaneously, which caught the public eye. These children became known through out the world as Maria Montessori’s “miracle children”.
Since then, the Montessori philosophy of education has been advocated by Montessori societies in Europe, Asia, North and South America, Australia and Africa. Thousands of Montessori casas have educated hundreds of thousands of children around the world in the past 8 decades.
In 1929, Maria Montessori and her son Mario founded the Association Montessori Internationale.
Since her death, one of the main functions of the AMI is to perpetuate Montessori education following Maria Montessori’s guidelines, maintaining her philosophy vital, without violating its integrity.
To this end, AMI has the pedagogical guidance of training centres around the world. The latest of these is the Foundation for Montessori Education, established in Toronto in 1989.