History of Montessori

The History of Montessori in Australia

This chapter is one for the history buffs. If history doesn’t interest you – I won’t be offended – simply scroll to the bottom and press ‘next’ to move on to the next unit.

The Montessori Method of education was developed by an Italian woman by the name of Maria
Montessori. Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870 and was the first Italian woman to become a
physician. Dr Montessori worked frequently with children after beginning teaching at a medical
school of the University of Rome. Through working in these free clinics and observing the children
she became “convinced that all the children are born with an amazing human potential, which can
develop only if adults provide them with the right stimulation during the first few years of life”


In 1907 Dr Montessori opened her first ‘Casa dei Bambini’ or Children’s House which was, in
essence, a day-care for the poor children in the slums of a rundown housing estate called San
Lorenzo. After careful scientific observation of these children Dr Montessori developed her own
materials and furniture that specifically catered for their interests and needs. As time progressed
these children went from chaotic street children to calm and courteous individuals, who took great
pride in caring for themselves and their environment. On top of this, the children scored above
average results on state testing which prompted much interest from educators worldwide.


Word spread about the marvellous work being undertaken in the Casa dei Bambini with academics,
educators and dignitaries alike flooding to observe the children. Montessori published her first
works ‘The Montessori Method’ and by 1912 Montessori schools were opening not just in Italy, but
around the world.


It was at this time that an Australian named Martha Simpson read a series of illustrated articles
published in the American McClure’s Magazine in late 1911 and early 1912. Miss Simpson together
with three other Australians, Rhonda and Norma Selfe and Miss Starling embarked on a journey to
Rome in 1913 to attend the first international Montessori training course and thus started the
Montessori movement in Australia

Miss Simpson was very passionate about the works of Montessori and upon returning to Australia
she set about creating a Montessori environment at Blackfriars Practicing School in Chippendale,
which was later endorsed by Dr Montessori herself.


Australia made history by opening a training program based on the Montessori Method in New
South Wales. This is especially significant as it was the first of its kind outside of Association
Montessori Internationale, also known as AMI


Today a severe shortage of qualified Montessori teachers is widely believed to be the biggest hurdle to the
Montessori Method not being more widespread and is a problem that is faced by principals
when recruiting staff and often teachers from overseas are employed.
In addition to a teacher shortage, lack of public information resulting in public misunderstandings
greatly contribute to stifling the Montessori potential. Some common misconceptions are:

~ Montessori is just for preschool children
~Montessori is only for the gifted or learning impaired students, not ‘normal’ students
~Montessori schools are religious or cult schools
~Montessori classes are unsupervised resulting in children ‘doing whatever they want’
~Montessori classes are too structured and limiting
~Montessori is ‘anti fantasy’ and thus stifles creativity
~Montessori push children too fast
~Montessori is out of date


The Honourable Peter Garratt (the then Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth)
spoke at the Montessori Centenary Conference in Canberra and noted how Montessori has
influenced the wider education movement today saying: “There is no doubt that much of Dr
Montessori’s cutting edge of thinking in education and childhood development in her time is
something which is valued and utilised today”. He went on to say, “We can’t really imagine what the
future holds for today’s children but what we can do is do what Dr Montessori did, and that’s take a
whole, holistic and refreshed approach to ensuring that our children learn, learn the ability to adapt
and develop that passion and enthusiasm for learning right through school and beyond. I think that’s
one of the proud traditions of Montessori, both around the globe and here in Australia, and that it’s
all so central to what we’re doing as we work to achieve a national plan for school improvement.”

Montessori education has bravely faced many ups and downs, twists and turns, stops and starts on
it’s journey and will continue to do so into the future. Educators today steam ahead,
adapting to the ever changing challenges that face students in the 21st century. The information
technology of this age continues to bring far greater access to resources and education for new
educators to progress and take over the reins. The Montessori Method is as relevant to children
today as it was in the first Children’s House all those years ago and will continue to be so into the future!

Did you learn some history facts there? Many people know the history of Maria Montessori herself, but not many know the history of the Montessori method in Australia!

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