Montessori, Maria

Montessori, Maria

Montessori, Maria, 1870-1952, Italian educator and physician. She was the originator of the Montessori method of education for young children and was the first woman to receive (1894) a medical degree in Italy.

After working with subnormal children as a psychiatrist at the Univ. of Rome, Dr. Montessori was appointed (1898) director of the Orthophrenic School. There she pioneered in the instruction of retarded children, especially through the use of an environment rich in manipulative materials. In 1901 she left the school to embark on further study and to serve (1901-7) as lecturer in pedagogical anthropology at the Univ. of Rome. The success of her program at the Orthophrenic School, however, led her to believe that similar improvements could be made in the education of normal preschool children, and in 1907 she opened the first case dei bambini [children's house] as a day-care center in the San Lorenzo district of Rome. The success of this venture led Montessori and her followers to establish similar institutions in other parts of Europe and in the United States, where the first Montessori school was established (1912) in Tarrytown, N.Y.

In 1929 the Association Montessori Internationale was established to further the Montessori method by sponsoring conventions and training courses for teachers. By this time, however, interest in Montessori education had declined in a number of countries, especially the United States, mainly because of opposition from those who felt that the method was destructive of school discipline. The Montessori method experienced a renaissance in many American schools during the late 1950s, and in 1960 the American Montessori Society was formed.

The Montessori Method

The chief components of the Montessori method are self-motivation and autoeducation. Followers of the Montessori method believe that a child will learn naturally if put in an environment containing the proper materials. These materials, consisting of "learning games" suited to a child's abilities and interests, are set up by a teacher-observer who intervenes only when individual help is needed. In this way, Montessori educators try to reverse the traditional system of an active teacher instructing a passive class. The typical classroom in a Montessori school consists of readily available games and toys, household utensils, plants and animals that are cared for by the children, and child-sized furniture—the invention of which is generally attributed to Dr. Montessori. Montessori educators also stress physical exercise, in accordance with their belief that motor abilities should be developed along with sensory and intellectual capacities. The major outlines of the Montessori system are based on Dr. Montessori's writings, which include The Montessori Method (1912), Pedagogical Anthropology (1913), The Advanced Montessori Method (2 vol., 1917), and The Secret of Childhood (1936).


See E. M. Standing, Maria Montessori (1958, repr. 1962) and The Montessori Revolution (1966); biography by R. Kramer (1983).

Montessori-Based Dementia Programming (MBDP) is a method of working with older adults living with cognitive and/or physical impairments based on the ideas of the educator Maria Montessori. It has been shown to increase levels of engagement and participation in activities of persons with dementia. While it can not cure or prevent Alzheimer's disease, it has been shown to generally improve many aspects of the quality of life of those who have it.


Montessori-Based Dementia Programming uses rehabilitation principles including guided repetition, task breakdown, and progressing from simple to complex. Additionally, principles of dementia interventions such as external cue usage and reliance on implicit memory are used. Examples of activities include reading groups and memory games.

Where is it used?

This method of helping persons with dementia and other memory impairments has been shown to be effective in a number of different contexts, including long-term care, assisted living, independent living and home-based care. It is also used in intergenerational programming where older adults with memory impairments and young children participate together in Montessori-based activities.

Who uses it?

Montessori-based Dementia Programming is primarily used by recreational therapists and activities professionals.


MBDP has been researched for over ten years by Dr. Cameron Camp (the creator of MBDP) and the staff of the Myers Research Institute.


MBDP received the Excellence in Research and Education Award from the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA). The creators of MBDP also received the 2004 Healthcare and Aging Award given by the American Society on Aging (ASA).

The science behind this work has been best described in scientific articles and trade journals, ranging from The Gerontologist to Activity Director's Quarterly and from Caring (the magazine of the National Association for Home Care) to Topics in Geriatric Rehab. It has also been featured in a story in the AARP Bulletin.

On 11-28-07 the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a story about MBDP on the front page of the Metro section. This story highlights the use of the technique in a long-term care facility.

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