Dr. Maria Montessori was born on August 31, 1870, in Chiaravalle, Italy. Montessori graduate with high honors from the medical school of the University of Rome in 1896 to become the first female doctor in Italy. She specialized in pediatrics and psychiatry. While working at the university in Rome, she observed that intrinsic intelligence was present in children of all socio-economic backgrounds.
Montessori's success with developmentally disabled children spurred her desire to test her teaching methods on "normal" children. She was given the chance to test her theory by the Italian government in 1907 when she was placed in charge of 60 students ranging in age who came from 1 to 6 from low-income households. The school, called Casa dei Bambini (or Children's House), enabled Montessori to create the "prepared learning" environment she believed was conducive to sense learning and creative exploration. Educators were urged to "follow the child"—that is, to let children's natural interests take the lead by taking a step back. Over the years, Montessori tweaked her methods through trial and error. Her writings further served to spread her ideology throughout Europe and the United States.
By 1925 more than 1,000 of her schools had opened in America. Gradually Montessori schools fell out of favor and by 1940 the movement become a past thought and only a few schools remained. Once World War II began, Montessori was forced to flee to India, where she developed a program called Education for Peace. Her work with the program earned her two Nobel Peace Prize nominations.
The 1960s witnessed a resurgence in Montessori schools, led by Dr. Nancy McCormick Rambusch. Today, Montessori's teaching methods continue to "follow the child" all over the globe.