We’re celebrating the contributions of Dr. Maria Montessori this month to honor her August 31 birthday. Born in 1870, Dr. Montessori’s passion for supporting a child’s natural desire to learn paved the way for what we now know as the Montessori Method. Her inspiring, authentic educational approach continues to shape our classrooms, materials, and teachings today.
In Montessori schools worldwide, classrooms typically mark the occasion with a small “Celebration of Life” ceremony. This is the same way we traditionally acknowledge a student’s birthday. It involves the child carrying a representation of the earth around a representation of the sun in the center of the classroom ellipse, circling it one time for each year of their age. Parents are encouraged to join in the celebration and talk about what their child learned during each passing year.
For Dr. Montessori’s birthday, guides might choose to read a short biography of Dr. Montessori or present an age-appropriate timeline of her life, since “circling the sun” 150 times is likely a bit much!
Here’s a look back at the key moments and accomplishments that shaped her influential journey:
After initially being refused, Maria Montessori was accepted to the University of Rome in 1890. She studied physics, mathematics, and natural sciences. Despite the challenges of working alone without mixed-gender classes, she persevered and graduated with honors in 1896 as a Doctor of Medicine.
After graduating, Dr. Montessori stayed to continue her research as a voluntary assistant in the university’s psychiatric clinic. She became intrigued with the children there, diving deeper into research that would lay the foundation for her work in education.
It was called Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) in Rome. Housing developers approached her while building a new apartment complex for low-income families. They wanted her advice on how to keep the children of working parents out of trouble. She agreed to help care for and educate them, opening her first school. Dr. Montessori created unique activities to support their natural learning development—some of which are still used today!
Even in its early stages, the Montessori Method was respected and had a major influence in the field of early education. Using her research and school successes, she published her first book in 1909. The Montessori Method reached second place on the U.S. nonfiction bestseller list. The book has since been translated into 20 different languages.
In 1929, Dr. Montessori and her son, Mario, established the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) to preserve her educational philosophy and approach to learning. Today, AMI’s mission is to empower communities and teachers through Maria Montessori’s holistic approach, helping all children become unique individuals who make a difference in the world. Dr. Montessori later encouraged the expansion of the Montessori Method in the United States, and through the efforts of Nancy McCormick Rambusch, the American Montessori Society (AMS) was established.
A devoted humanitarian, Dr. Maria Montessori was nominated for this high honor in 1949, 1950, and 1951 for her educational advocacy efforts. Two of her principles serve as the foundation of the Montessori pedagogy: (1) the universal characteristics of the human child and (2) the child as a unique, unrepeatable, respectable, and admirable individual to be unconditionally accepted as one of life’s most marvelous expressions.
Dr. Montessori fought against discrimination against both children with disabilities and women. To help break down barriers, she also joined the women’s rights movement early to fight for equal pay. She frequently spoke about the need for better opportunities and was recognized in Italy as a leading feminist voice.
“We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.” ~Dr. Maria Montessori