The Life of Maria Montessori


The child is not a vase to be filled, but a spring to be sprinkled.

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori’s life is a path that, through narrow parades, suddenly leads to the horizon, each step preparing the next.

Edwing Mortimer Standing, Maria Montessori

Who is Maria Montessori?

Maria Montessori has dedicated her life to the human being.

Her choice to become a doctor will be a determining factor in the great mission of her life. She managed to break into the secret universe of childhood.

She studied the physical and psychological development of the child from birth. Her many conferences will be a spiritual stimulus and will allow the emergence of more and more schools all over the world.

Maria Montessori was born on August 31, 1870 in Chiaravalle, near Ancona, Italy. She comes from a bourgeois family. Her parents married in 1866. Her father Alessandro Montessori is a strict and rigorous man, her mother Renilde Stoppani defends her liberal aspirations: very educated, she is open to new ideas. She will be very close to her daughter and will respect her freedom.

Maria’s family moved to Rome in 1875, where she studied elementary from 1876 to 1882. She showed a great interest in mathematics at an early age and wanted to become an engineer. She was then confronted with her father’s disagreement, who was considering a teaching career for her.

Supported by her mother, Maria enrolled in 1883 in a technical college for boys. At the age of 13, she was already facing the social and cultural limits that were available to women at that time.

Maria Montessori wanted to become a doctor, but faced with the hostility of her entourage and supported only by her mother, she initially opted for the Faculty of Science. Her tenacity would finally later on open the doors of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery in Rome.

A brilliant student, she quickly won the sympathy of some of her professors, despite recurrent hostility and the male resistance of the university world to a female presence. Maria would face many other difficulties than the animosity of the students.

At that time it was unthinkable for a young girl to dissect corpses in the presence of men. She would thus have no other possibility than to practice her dissections alone and often at night.

In 1896, she defended her doctoral thesis on a psychiatric subject (it is a clinical study on “antagonistic hallucinations”), encouraged by the director of the psychiatric clinic of the University of Rome.

Maria Montessori then became one of the first female doctors in Italy. For 10 years, she worked tirelessly, both professionally and personally, to help people on the margins of traditional society.

She was an active advocate for the defence and recognition of the rights of women and children with mental disabilities.

Very quickly, she became interested in social issues and in particular the role of women in society. In 1896 she presented herself as emissary of Italian women at the Women’s Congress in Berlin. She continued her militant and social involvement at the London Congress in 1899. She thus carried out several interventions for the emancipation of women demanding more humane working conditions.

In Rome, Maria Montessori continues her research as part of a team that includes doctors, scientists and researchers. She studies the behaviour of mentally retarded children through internships in children’s medical services. While continuing her activities, she opened a private practice.

The Beginning of Work on Education

It is based on the work of Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard and Edouard Seguin, who have developed special educational methods for children with disabilities and have developed a new approach to mental illness. Maria concludes that “education” is more beneficial to these children than mere medical care. Seguin is the disciple of Jean Itard who took in a child (the savage of Aveyron). This child was not speaking and Jean Itard looked for ways to help him acquire the language but without success.

Maria Montessori then began to reflect on the work of Jean Itard and Edouard Seguin and developed materials that are still used today, particularly fraction materials (Edouard Seguin has published books on sensory education). After this work in psychiatry Maria became a lecturer at the Rome Training Institute.

Mario’s birth

During this period, on March 10, 1898, she gave birth to a boy whom she named “Mario”. (There is speculation about Mario Montessori’s exact date of birth, but according to Mario himself, he was born on March 31, 1898).

Mario is the result of a relationship between Maria Montessori and Giuseppe Montesano, a medical researcher at the psychiatric clinic who is pursuing psychopathological research. He was Maria’s psychiatry teacher during his medical studies.

As she is a child born out of wedlock, Maria’s pregnancy is kept secret. Dr. Montesano, from a wealthy family with an authoritarian mother, never married Maria Montessori, so Mario will not take his father’s name.

Maria Montessori was a single mother: at that time, it was considered sacrilegious. According to Mario, only Maria’s parents and some close friends and associates were aware of his existence. 

Maria had to give in to their pressure and send Mario back to a family in the countryside near Rome. He would grow up there, raised by a nanny, and it is only in adolescence that he would be able to live with his mother. Maria Montessori would experience this separation as a tear, even if she sometimes visits her child.

Between 1899 and 1901, Maria participated in the educational congress in Turin and gave a series of lectures in Rome.

Continuation of research on education

She then became the director of the State School of Orthopaedics. In this school she would have to work with deficient children who are described as “crazy” or “stupid”. Over time, Maria Montessori realized that these children learn like all children.

She would then observe them, think about them and start developing specific equipment adapted to handling. These children will learn to read and write, and their work will enable them to successfully obtain the certificate of study.

At the same time, Maria Montessori undertook studies in anthropology, which led her to a teaching chair in pedagogical anthropology at the University of Rome.

From 1906 onwards, she took care of normal pre-school children, for whom she created her own teaching method.

In 1907, at a time when workers were working in difficult conditions, their children who lived there did not know what to do and destroyed what surrounded them.

Maria Montessori hears about these children for whom we are looking for a care system, so she decides to take care of them. The same year she opened the first children’s house “la casa dei Bambini” in San Lorenzo, Rome, which welcomes young children. She uses this experience to develop and implement educational materials that children can use.

The latter will quickly invest and appropriate the use of this equipment. It is a success.

From the beginning, Maria Montessori considered that children deserve love. To help her, she did not want qualified staff, she worked with an untrained assistant, who was instructed not to disturb the children who were working and concentrated.

Scientific Pedagogy, the United States

In 1909, in Italy, Maria Montessori gave the first training course in her pedagogy, attended by about a hundred teachers. She also published Volume 1 of Scientific Pedagogy, a book in which she explains her method and origins.

Between 1910 and 1912 the first Montessori schools opened in the United States, Paris and Boston.

In 1913, she published the second volume of Scientific Pedagogy.

Between 1913 and 1918, Maria Montessori gave several training courses in her pedagogy, supported by the Montessori Committee of the United States.

In 1913 she made her first trip to the United States. It was also the creation of the Montessori Educational Association with Graham Bell, his wife and President Wilson’s daughter. Opening of a Montessori school in Paris.

In 1915: She returned to the United States.

In 1916: Installation in Barcelona at the invitation of the city government, opening of a Training Centre and a model school.

During this period she was accompanied by her son Mario. This trip probably marked the beginning of a long-standing association between mother and son, both personally and at work. From then on, Mario Montessori would continue to promote the principles and practice of Montessori pedagogy. He began to accompany her on all her tours and helped her conduct her classes. Together, they created the International Montessori Association as a supervisory body to oversee the activities of the schools.  This work extended all over the world and included the supervision of teacher training. 

In 1920: Lectures at the University of Amsterdam (for the first time, Maria Montessori unveils the main lines of secondary education).

In 1921: Opening of the first International Congress of New Education.

In 1924: Maria Montessori met Benito Mussolini.

In 1926: Visit to Argentina and speech on “education and peace” at the League of Nations in Geneva.

In 1927: Presentation to the English court.

In 1929: Creation of the MIA (Association Montessori Internationale) in association with Mario, in Berlin.

With the creation of the MAI, the activities of the Montessori movement are becoming more organized.

Political instability and the inter-war period

The 1930s and their historical environment, marked by instability, marked a halt in the spread of Montessori pedagogy.

In 1930, at a conference in Vienna, Maria met Anna Freud. She participates in the Congress of New Education and gives a Montessori course in Nice, France.

In 1931, she gave lectures at the University of Berlin and the Sorbonne. Mahatma Gandhi came to Rome and visited the Montessori schools there.

In 1933, the arrival of the Nazis led to the closure of Montessori schools in Germany.

In 1934, the same thing happened in Italy, whereas a few years earlier Mussolini was assigned to Maria Montessori.

In 1935, the Montessori International Association (MIA) moved to Amsterdam.

In 1936, at the 5th Montessori Congress in Oxford, Maria spoke for the first time about cosmic education. She settled in the Netherlands following the coup d’état and the beginning of the civil war in Spain.

In 1938, at a conference at the Sorbonne, she made one of her many calls for peace.

In 1939, she went to India with her son. It provides training courses in Madras for more than 300 students. But a few months later, Italy’s entry into the war with Germany, which marked the beginning of the Second World War, meant that Maria, as an Italian national, was deprived of travel: she was placed under house arrest in India until 1945. She then founded several small schools for children from 3 to 12 years old and it is there that she studied the main principles of the pedagogy of 6 – 12 years old.

During this period and with the collaboration of her son Mario, she developed the concept and great ideas of “cosmic education”. Essentially, this concept is to give the universe to the child as a whole with the organization of the mind as a framework. It means looking at the universe as a cosmos in order and harmony where everything is connected to everything.

The post-war period

In 1945, Maria Montessori returned to Europe and conducted a training course in London in 1946.

In 1947, at the request of the new government, Montessori settlements in Italy reopened. Maria was focusing her work on the 0-3 age group.

In 1948, she returned to India for training courses and conferences.

In 1949, Maria Montessori published The Absorbent Mind in which she transmitted her spiritual and philosophical approach to the child.

In 1950, at a conference in Perugia, Italy, Maria Montessori presented a first outline corresponding to the 4 development plans.

At the end, Maria continued to travel the world to share and divulge her teaching method, with Mario as her constant companion. They have given courses and conferences in London, Scotland, Rome, Berlin, Ceylon, India, Pakistan, the Netherlands and France.

Maria died on May 6, 1952 in Noordwijk aan Zee, the Netherlands. She was then 82 years old, an honorary citizen of many cities and decorated with the Legion of Honor.

After Maria Montessori’s death, Mario continued his dissemination work, working for the Montessori movement. He will continue to actively lead the training courses.

Montessori pedagogy has inspired thousands of teachers around the world, leading to the creation of many nursery and primary schools, colleges and high schools.

Thus the name Maria Montessori is still more alive today.

Steve Hughes’ conference – “Education for life: neurosciences perspectives on Montessori education” – held in Vésenaz on May 9, 2019, in partnership with the Maria Montessori Training Institute (IFMM)


Dr. Steve Hughes, a renowned American pediatric neuropsychologist and a prominent member of the Research Council of the International Montessori Association, is no longer being introduced.

The purpose of his intervention in Vésenaz was the confrontation between Montessori pedagogy and neuroscience, through the key concept of Montessori as “education for life”. A complex program that Dr. Steve Hughes has made intelligible to everyone.

Beginning by recalling the specificity of living systems, which is to resist the second law of thermodynamics by extracting energy from their environment to survive, he presented the child as a living being lacking the skills necessary for survival. Hence the importance of freedom of movement for children, through which they will gradually acquire the opportunity to interact with their environment. The brain is thus an extraordinary tool for adapting to the environment.

The role of a Montessori environment is first and foremost to promote the child’s purposeful movement, which helps to build his or her brain. In this sense, Montessori pedagogy is directly an “aid to life”.

Maria Montessori Les Aiglons middle school – End of year celebration and exhibition on the theme of “food” – Saturday 29 June 2019


La fête de fin d’année du Collège Maria Montessori des Aiglons a donné lieu pour la 3ème année consécutive à la présentation d’une exposition réalisée par les adolescents. Cette année, le thème était celui de la “nourriture”.

La nourriture à travers les âges et les cultures, les procédés de cuisson et leurs implications physiques (cuisson au jus de citron, cuisson au feu, cuisson par induction, cuisson solaire, etc.)

Il y en avait pour tous les goûts. 

Et bien entendu des exposés sur la crise alimentaire actuelle, la “malbouffe” et ses implications sanitaires.

L’occasion pour tous les parents et plus généralement les familles de découvrir en détail le travail réalisé par leurs enfants ainsi que pour certains leur engagement “politique” pour sauver la planète et lutter contre les abus de toutes sortes.

Après l’exposition, un repas préparé exclusivement par les adolescents, comprenant de nombreuses spécialités culinaires du monde, a permis de profiter de la belle journée estivale sur la terrasse du collège. Puis les élèves des classes de 5ème et de 4ème ont présenté un spectacle de théâtre en plein air.

Maria Montessori des Aiglons middle school – Graduation ceremony for 12-15 year olds – Wednesday 26 June 2019


On Wednesday, June 26, 2019, the graduation ceremony for the 12-15 year olds took place at Maria Montessori College in Les Aiglons. 9 students were given a certificate of completion, which testifies to their time at the school.

A small ceremony was organized by the director Sylvie Coffre, which allowed everyone to remember the progress made in 2 or 3 years, since the arrival in the 5th grade for most of them. Adolescence is really an age where the changes are dramatic in a few years!

While some have simply grown up and are recognizable in the oldest pictures, the majority have moved from being children to being young adults. And as a reflection of this physical transformation, intellectual and emotional evolution is equally marked.

This is the challenge of this Montessori College’s global educational project, which is unique in France thanks to its boarding school from Monday to Friday, which enables teenagers to truly learn to live together and to confront their peers. A good way to prepare for adult life!

Annual General Assembly of the Swiss Montessori Association (AMS)


The AMS (Association Montessori Suisse – which brings together the actors of the Montessori community for the cantons of French-speaking and Italian-speaking Switzerland) is organising its annual General Assembly on Wednesday 12 June 2019 from 17:00, at the Maison des Associations, 15 rue des Savoises, in Geneva.

This will be an opportunity to take stock of the events of the past year, but also to talk about the many projects. The AMS is in a special situation because in Switzerland, and unlike many countries, the name “Montessori” is protected.

But how can we evaluate that a school respects the criteria corresponding to a “true” Montessori pedagogy?

In addition, the Committee that manages the association on behalf of its members will be largely renewed this year: an opportunity to discover new faces and exchange ideas within the network.

Following the general assembly, a conference will be proposed by Jessica Scrimes, Montessori trainer in training for 0-3 year olds, on the theme of Montessori for the youngest.

A theme particularly requested by the community, for which Jessica will be able to share her experience!

Annual General Assembly of the College Maria Montessori des Aiglons (Cruseilles – Haute-Savoie)


The Maria Montessori des Aiglons College, located in Cruseilles in Haute-Savoie since 2014, is celebrating its 5th anniversary this year!

It has been constituted in 2016 as a cooperative society, of which the employees of the college, but also the parents and several Montessori schools in the region are members, not to mention the supporters of the project, former or more recent.

An original governance that aims to bring together the various stakeholders around the educational project, who together contribute to the educational development of the 35 or so young people who are welcomed each year in boarding schools, from 5th to 3rd grade (12-15 years old).

This General Assembly, the first after the financial difficulties of the previous year, will be an opportunity to discuss with the college’s management team (Sylvie Coffre, Olivia Gollain and Julien Lamorte) the year that is ending and the prospects, particularly with regard to the future of the Les Aiglons site and possibly the opening of a future Montessori school.

Montessori : Unsupervised practice at home – best experience ever!


Living with 5 other classmates turned out to be an amazing and growing experience!

Practice Montessori from home with your roommates

Even though I was shy at first and didn’t want to reveal my true colors until I got to know my roommates, in the end I think living together was one of the best choices we made.

Not only we would laugh ourselves to tears almost every night, by exchanging life stories and anecdotes from our past adventures, but also we would study together and practice whatever we couldn’t manage during supervised practice in school. 

As I told you before, in a previous article, our course had 2 blocks, each block lasted 3 months a.k.a the summer period in India.

And at the end of every block, we had exams: at the end of the first block we had a “mock exam”, which helped us understand how the actual exams are going to take place; and at the end of the second block, we had the real written and oral exams.

So, you can imagine the panic, stress and meltdowns which happened every summer, towards the end!

Prepare the Montessori presentations

One of the things we would do every night, before the exams, was to pull slips out of a box and prepare the presentation for the next day.

We would only practice at home stories, presentations with charts and timelines, and leave the presentations with other Montessori materials for supervised practice in school. 

Create your own Montessori material at home

The funniest thing I remember happening during the last weeks of the first block was us trying to figure out how to practice “The Hand Timeline” at home, without having the Hand Timeline material. We all wanted to practice telling that story, but it was kind of awkward without unrolling the actual timeline. 

So, as we were all scratching our heads and thinking of ways to manage the situation, my bladder found the solution.

I needed to go to the toilet, so I stood up and went to the bathroom and as I was doing my thing, the idea stroke me: “We could use toilet paper!”. You cannot imagine the joy in my eyes as I was exiting the bathroom, holding the winner roll of toilet paper in my hands.

And, of course, you cannot imagine the look on my roommates face when they saw me jumping like a maniac and screaming: “Toilet paper! We can use toilet paper!”.

Our artist, JV, took a pencil and grabbed the toilet paper from my hand. He counted the number of squares we would need and started drawing the hand in the middle.

All of us practiced the Hand Timeline that night and I can guarantee this would be a story our grandchildren will listen to, somewhere in the future. 

We had many moments of intense practice at home and many times we would almost burst into tears because we weren’t sure how to begin a presentation and trigger the interest of the child, but we managed to overcome every situation by supporting each other and caring for one another!

So, if you have the opportunity to take an Elementary Montessori Course and live in a house with some of your classmates, don’t hesitate and take it! You will have the time of your life!

Montessori Supervised practice – learning patience, humility and understanding


The Elementary Montessori Course is not all about theory and lectures, taking notes and learning concepts.

It is also about applying them in an actual environment by attending supervised practice.

Every day, after the lectures were over, we would divide into groups and enter Montessori classrooms, where we would “get our hands dirty” and handle actual Montessori materials. 

Learn how to present the Montessori materials

Even though India’s temperatures were not so friendly in the afternoon, our main goal was to master every presentation from the hand-outs, not only for the exams but also for our future work in our own classrooms.

So, every day we would man ourselves up, drink lots of water and went to practice. 

Because we were a large group (almost 90 people), we had to divide into 3 smaller groups (Red Group, Green Group and Blue Group) and do our practice into 3 different environments.

One of the environments was set up especially for us, with the actual materials from our hand-outs, but the other two were actual environments of children from Pebble Creek School, and some of the charts and nomenclature materials were quite different.

That was a little confusing at first, but in time we managed and things started to run smoothly. 

Experience how the child faces the Montessori materials

What I think was more valuable than the actual handling of the materials was the patience we developed.

I remember how, after the lecture of the Cube Root ended, which was somehow a little more challenging to understand only from theory, all of us raced to the assigned environments to grab the material and practice right away, while the information was still fresh in our minds.

Even though we were aware that we shouldn’t run on the stairs, we would speed up our walking and we would look behind to check if somebody else was also coming for the material.

It was even funnier when we reached the material, started working and realized that this is exactly what children do in the classroom: if they have their mind set up on a certain activity, they would do anything in their power to grab the specific materials and work. 

Another thing that came to my understanding was that when you are not confident about a presentation, you tend to avoid doing it. Exactly what children do when they don’t understand a concept and avoid working with a specific material.

I admit that I am a shy person who was always afraid of trying something new and making a mistake on the way. But, by attending the supervised practice, I starting asking my classmates for help and realized that the feeling you get when you finally understand how things work and how easy it all becomes after, is truly fulfilling.

This feeling is exactly what we should aim for our children to get, after every activity!

Share your skills in order to become a better Montessori guide

Last but not the least is the strong bond we made by all working together and not being part of the same small group every day.

We noticed how different people have different skills in different areas and how we can grow together by asking questions and listening to different points of view.

Even though sometimes we had our differences, at the end of the day we would always meet halfway and accept each other’s opinion.

And I truly believe that helped us a lot on our way of becoming the best Montessori guides for our children!

The importance of the trainer in Montessori training


I have to admit I accepted attending this Montessori course without doing too much research before.

Since I discovered the Montessori method, I constantly felt the urge to sign up for a course but every time something else came up that made me postpone this decision.

Now that I think about it, I am sure it was faith. 

Making a choice for my Montessori training

As I was saying, I didn’t research too much before saying yes to this course.

My boss came to me one day and told me that there was an opportunity for me to have my own elementary classroom, if I was willing to go to Hyderabad, India and attend the Montessori Elementary Training for 2 summers in a row.

I remember the feeling that entered my whole body: my heart started racing and my knees started shaking. I went home and talked to my family.

We made a pro and con list and decided that me being away from them for 6 months was a small price to pay for having this wonderful experience.

And we were right!

Meeting our Montessori trainer

It was only after I arrived in Hyderabad and started the foundation course, which was mandatory for the actual elementary training, that I found out more about our future trainer.

Until then, I only knew his name and that he had a lot of experience in the field.

But after talking with my classmates and hearing all the kind words they had to say about him, my curiosity was stroke. 

And on the last day of the foundation course he arrived at school and attended our small celebration. I remember looking at him, listening to his speech and thinking to myself: “How will I ever understand his Australian accent? He talks soooo fast!”. 

But the fact is, I will never forget the feeling I got when he told us that the journey we are about to start is going to change our lives forever and that it was the best decision to make. And he was right!

I always felt that the connection you make with your teacher has a great impact on your ability to learn.

And just by observing every day the joy and happiness in his eyes, when he talked about children and how important it is to follow each child’s rhythm, he made me understand that if you put passion and excitement in every Montessori presentation there is no way this method won’t work. 

The quality of our Montessori training

He showed us that patience is essential in our work and that we should not fear errors.

Usually, human beings are afraid of making mistakes, because they fear they would be laughed at.

In the whole Montessori education, the idea of mistakes being a bad thing is eliminated – even when making an error when writing on paper, you can always learn from that and give it thanks by turning it into a beautiful design! 

I am so thankful for having the chance to learn from our trainer, to understand that in this world there are no problems, only challenges for us to rise from and opportunities to make our world a better place, by guiding our tiny humans into reaching their full potential.

So, I would like to end this article by expressing my eternal gratitude to Greg MacDonald for guiding us into becoming Montessori Elementary Teachers and to promise that I would do my best to follow his valuable advices. 

Jeannette Toulemonde – A Lie, Really ? (1969)


This article was published in partnership with the Nascita Montessori Centre of the North and its documentary collection.

(Documentary collection, EV. 1969 – Extract “Le vrai et le faux”, by Jeannette Toulemonde, founder of the CNMN and L’Enfant et la Vie)

What if we think we discover a lie in our child?

“Mom, the mistress said we should bring a roll of tape…”

A little girl would ask her mother something new every day. The mother asked the teacher and learned that she did not require anything of the kind.

She thought about her own attitude towards her daughter and acknowledged that, although she was generous with toys, she did not like to lend her the contents of her drawer: glue, pencils, etc., or buy these items from her at the stationery store.

By hearing the answer ‘no’, the little girl had found a way to acquire these objects, much more interesting for her than toys, and much more constructive.

Behind our children’s ‘lies’, we can often find a mistake on our part. This error is often too much of an influence on the child, forcing him or her to use indirect means to achieve the goal set for him or her internally.

Again, this is a deviation: the child has encountered an obstacle and is moving in another direction. Let us not be an obstacle in our children’s path.

But let us not take for lies all their words which are not true according to us.

The little child is an apprentice.

His mind is exercised, seeks; he can sometimes make mistakes. It is not by taking it back, by scolding it for a so-called lie that we will help it to see clearly.

Let’s help him with a clear atmosphere.

To a 4-year-old boy who says to his friends: “my daddy drives a big truck”, whereas this one is employed at the town hall, for example, we don’t answer naughty little liar; because it’s not on purpose that he has made reality turn sour.

An unconscious fault is not a fault.

He took, as often “his desires for realities”, it is so imposing a big truck! And he wanted his father, whom he loves, to have the pleasure of driving him.

The child always has a reason.

Let us look for this reason every time we see a disorder, a deviation. Even if we haven’t found it, let’s make it the positive atmosphere in which the defect cannot live.