Maria Montessori was a woman ahead of her time. Born in 1870 in Italy, she became a well-known speaker and published writer in her twenties, advocating for the rights of women and educational reform. Throughout her life she developed and refined a method of education that was received with great excitement. So astounding was the result of her work that she was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace prize and her method is now applied throughout the world.
Beginning with a tenement project that needed a program for the working parents’ children, 3 to 7 years of age, Montessori set up her first classroom, a ‘Casa dei Bambini’ – a children’s home in Italian. Montessori observed that these children became very focused and engaged in some of the materials that she had provided and that this engagement produced a transformation of the child’s personality. The children worked for long periods without tiring and became peaceful and responsible. Montessori termed this state ‘spontaneous activity’ (It is now recognized as ‘flow,’ a modern term coined by psychologist Mihály Csikszentmihályi). Montessori began removing the materials that did not appeal to the children and developing materials that spoke not only to the children’s natural inclinations but which also allowed the children to develop the academic and practical skills that they would need to succeed as adults.
With the success of the ‘Casa’ program there also came a demand for programs for older students. Montessori again used her observational powers to develop classroom communities and curriculums for older students that were responsive to their natural inclinations and that put the students into the same state of focused engagement or flow. OMS Montessori (originally Ottawa Montessori School) continues that tradition.