How Did Montessori Schools Get Started?

The Montessori method is a popular approach to education that focuses on child-led learning and practical, hands-on activities. 

Today, there are thousands of Montessori schools around the world, from preschools to high schools, and the method has been adapted for use in homes and remote learning environments as well.

But how did they get started?

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the origins of Montessori education – from Maria’s early life and educational background – through her groundbreaking Casa dei Bambini experiment -to the spread of her ideas around the world.

Maria Montessori’s Early Life and Education

Maria Montessori was born in Chiaravalle, Italy in 1870. She was the only child of her parents and grew up in a household with a strong emphasis on education.

Her father was a civil servant and her mother was well-educated, which provided Maria with many opportunities to learn from an early age. 

As a child, she was described as being curious and independent, always asking questions about the world around her.

After completing high school, Maria decided to pursue a career in medicine. This decision was unusual for women at the time as it was not considered a common profession for them.

However, Maria persevered and eventually earned her medical degree from the University of Rome in 1896. 

While studying medicine, Maria became interested in psychology. She began attending lectures by Italian psychologist Giuseppe Sergi and became fascinated by his ideas about mental development. 

This interest would eventually lead her to develop her legendary theories about how children learn best.

How Montessori Schools Began: The Casa dei Bambini Experiment

Montessori believed that children should be allowed to develop naturally, at their own pace, and in an environment that supported their innate curiosity and desire to learn.

To test these ideas, she was given the opportunity to run an experiment at the Casa dei Bambini, a school for underprivileged children in Rome.

She began running the school in January 1907.

At the time of Maria Montessori’s experiment at Casa dei Bambini, Italy was going through a period of change. There was a growing awareness of social inequalities and a movement towards reforming education for all.

The school where Montessori conducted her experiment served primarily working-class families who could not afford private tutors or other forms of education. 

The children who attended Casa dei Bambini were often left to fend for themselves while their parents worked long hours.

Many came from impoverished backgrounds and had little exposure to books or other educational materials. Montessori saw this as an opportunity to create an environment where they could thrive intellectually, socially, and emotionally.

Montessori believed that children learn best through hands-on experiences rather than just memorizing facts from textbooks. 

She set up her classroom with child-sized furniture and equipment that encouraged exploration and discovery. She also emphasized self-directed learning and gave students the freedom to choose what activities they wanted to engage in throughout the day.

She would tailor her lessons based on what she observed about each student’s interests, learning style, and progress.

The Results of the Casa dei Bambini Experiment

The results of Montessori’s experiment at Casa dei Bambini were remarkable.

The children who had been struggling in traditional classrooms thrived in Montessori’s environment.

They became more independent, confident, and engaged in their learning. They also showed significant improvements in their academic performance.

Montessori’s success at Casa dei Bambini led to the establishment of other schools using her methods, and she began training teachers to spread her approach to education around the world. 

Today, Montessori schools can be found in nearly every country and continue to be a popular alternative to traditional education.

The Spread of Montessori Education

Montessori education has spread far and wide since Maria Montessori first publicized her method over a century ago. 

Initially, the approach gained popularity in Italy, where Montessori herself was based. However, before long, it began to attract attention internationally.

The first US-based Montessori school opened in 1911.

The movement continued to gain momentum throughout the 1920s and 1930s, with schools opening up across Europe and North America.

One of the key factors that contributed to this growth was the publication of several influential books by Maria Montessori herself, including The Secret of Childhood and The Absorbent Mind.

These texts helped to disseminate her ideas more widely among educators and parents alike.

Establishing Training Centers for Teachers

One of the most important ways that Montessori’s approach has been able to spread so widely is through teacher training centers. 

From early on in her career as an educator, Maria Montessori recognized the importance of training teachers in her method if it was going to be properly implemented.

In fact, she believed that this was one of the most important aspects of her work. In order to achieve this goal, she established a series of training centers around the world where aspiring educators could learn about her approach firsthand.

These centers would often be led by experienced practitioners who had worked closely with Montessori herself or with other leading figures in the movement. 

Today, there are thousands of certified Montessori teachers all over the world who have been trained at one of these centers.

Key Moments in Montessori Education History

Montessori education in the United States ended up fading out by the 1920s, despite more than 100 schools being open in the US in 1916. It took until the 1950s for the method to come back in earnest in the US.

One significant event in the history of Montessori education was the formation of the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) in 1929. This organization was founded by Maria Montessori herself and aimed to promote her method around the world through teacher training and other initiatives.

While Maria Montessori developed her method over a century ago, it has not remained static since then. Instead, it has continued to be refined and adapted by educators around the world who are committed to providing children with an approach that empowers them to learn and grow at their own pace.

Dr. Maria Montessori

Criticisms and Controversies

Not Structured Enough?

One common criticism of Montessori education is that it is allegedly not structured enough.

There is certainly some truth to this, as Montessori classrooms are typically less regimented and more open-ended than traditional schools. 

However, this does not mean that students are left completely to their own devices with no guidance from teachers.

Rather, the approach is one of guided exploration, where students are encouraged to pursue their interests and passions within a carefully crafted framework.

Montessori classrooms often have a set sequence of materials that students are expected to work through every day in order to build skills and knowledge.

However, it is not necessarily the most effective approach for everyone, as each student may thrive in a different educational environment.

No Centralized Standards?

Another issue has been around standardization – namely, whether there should be some kind of central body governing what can be considered “Montessori” education.

Some argue that without such standards in place, any school can make up its own version of the approach and call it “Montessori,” diluting the quality and effectiveness of the method.

Another controversy relates to whether Montessori education is appropriate for all children.

While many proponents argue that it can benefit kids from all backgrounds and levels of ability, some critics point out that it may not be suitable for those who struggle with self-motivation or who need more structured environments in order to thrive academically.

Ultimately, like any educational approach or philosophy, there will always be debates about its effectiveness and applicability on a case-by-case basis.


Maria Montessori’s work has had a profound impact on modern education. Her focus on child-centered learning, hands-on exploration, and individualized attention has inspired countless educators around the world.

Montessori schools continue to thrive, with thousands of schools worldwide.

One of the key contributions of Montessori education is its emphasis on fostering independence and self-motivation in children.

Another important aspect of Montessori education is its focus on respect for each child’s unique abilities and needs. By recognizing that every child learns differently, Montessori schools can more readily reach the educational ceiling for each student.

In many cases, this approach helps students build confidence in themselves and their abilities.

Maria Montessori’s ideas have inspired generations of educators to create learning environments that foster independence, creativity, and respect for each individual student’s needs.

As we continue to strive towards creating better educational opportunities for all children around the world, we can look to Maria Montessori’s legacy as a source of inspiration and guidance.

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