113 Years Ago Today

photo credit: Flavia Filippi

Welcome back from a long and rejuvenating Winter Break! Today we are back at school, ready to kick off 2020 with curiosity, imagination, hard work and a true love of learning. Today is an extra special first day back because it also the anniversary of the opening of Dr. Maria Montessori’s Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) in the San Lorenzo neighborhood of Rome on January 6, 1907.

Casa dei Bambini was the culmination of a decade of Dr. Montessori’s work in educational reform, as well as the beginning of what would become known as the Montessori School.

At the turn of the 20th century, Dr. Montessori was a pioneer of women in the medical field, a respected scientist, educator and advocate for children. Through her work in a children’s hospital, researching developmental and cognitive disabilities, Dr. Montessori observed what she believed to be an intrinsic intelligence and drive to learn in the children—an intelligence and drive to learn that were not being nurtured.

As a member of what was then called the National League for the Protection of Retarded Children, she spoke publicly about the need for education and support, rather than hospitalization, for children with cognitive disabilities. She and her colleagues led a wave of education reform in Italy, as they began to develop ways to meet the needs of children who were otherwise neglected or seen as unteachable.

Dr. Montessori pursued further studies in anthropology, psychology and philosophy as she worked to develop what she called her “scientific pedagogy,” a method of teaching, borne of her observations, research and first-hand work with children, that she believed would apply to all children.

Soon she was invited to San Lorenzo, an impoverished, industrial neighborhood of Rome, to supervise the children who were left alone during the days as their parents worked in nearby factories. There were between 50 and 70 children, ages 3 to 7, and Dr. Montessori created for them, Casa dei Bambini.

Dr. Montessori provided the children in Casa dei Bambini practical activities that allowed them to care for themselves and their environment. She furnished the classroom with lessons she had designed and allowed the children to direct themselves, to follow their own interests. The children in Casa dei Bambini absorbed the order and language in their surroundings, began to concentrate, to learn from each other and to work independently. They were succeeding in their school.

It is not true that I invented what is called the Montessori Method… I have studied the child; I have taken what the child has given me and expressed it, and that is what is called the Montessori Method.Maria Montessori

Dr. Montessori continued to hone her methods in Casa dei Bambini over the next few years and more schools opened throughout Italy and Switzerland. News of these innovative schools spread quickly, and Dr. Montessori was invited to lecture in Europe, the UK, and eventually the United States on her pedagogy. She held training courses for educators and authored several books, and over the next four decades Montessori schools opened throughout much of the world.

Which brings us to today, 113 years after the first Casa dei Bambini opened its doors. It is estimated that there are 20,000 Montessori schools throughout the world today—school’s based on the observations, hard work and principles of Dr. Maria Montessori. Villa di Maria is proud and honored to be one of them. Happy anniversary, Casa dei Bambini.

Sources and suggested reading

The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori

The 1946 London Lectures by Maria Montessori

The First Casa dei Bambini

First Montessori school opens in Rome