She also did work with articulating the importance and character of certain "sensitive periods" that children go through. During these periods they seem to have an ability to simply absorb from the environment whatever is needed. She pointed out sensitive periods for language, order, small objects, refinement of the senses, good manners, and more.
Throughout her time of working with these poor children, she continuously observed children with the love and wonder of a mother but also with the objective eye of a scientist. The work that was done in the name of these children was truly amazing. Word began to spread about the accomplishments of Maria Montessori and these children. People from many countries and positions in life became interested in her approach to educating the young.
Maria began to realize that education was indeed her mission in life. She resigned from her university position and from her practice as a physician and completely dedicated her time and energy to working with children and developing their education.
Her fame spread, and she was asked to come to speak in various countries. She came to the United States and gave a speech at Carnegie Hall to more than 5,000 people, while many more who wanted to be there were turned away. The welcome from the Americans was enthusiastic. While in the United States she stayed as a guest with Thomas Edison, the famous inventor, who had a great admiration for her work. An American Montessori Society existed under the presidency of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. The honorary secretary of this society was Miss Margaret Wilson, daughter of the President of the United States. Dr. Montessori gave courses for teachers in California, and she had a Montessori class operating as an exhibition at the San Francisco World Exhibition where it received two gold medals. The prospect of a large Montessori World Headquarters established in America was offered to her, but she felt her ties with Europe too strongly.
She made many trips to all parts of the world to give lectures and set up training courses for teachers. But, she felt her main work was with children directly–to work with them in discovering what was the best method of education. She always had a penetrating insight into the soul of the child. With her scientific outlook, combined with her maternal tenderness and sympathy, she was able to establish a truly respectful and always expanding method of educating children.
In 1943, she was in India giving training courses when World War II broke out. Because she was Italian, she was regarded officially as an enemy alien; however, an exception was made in her case, and she was allowed to continue with her work. During her stay in India, she spent time with Mahatma Gandhi, Mr. Nehru, and Tagore.
In 1946, when the War was over, she returned to Europe and directed an international training course in London. She was asked to return to Italy in 1947 to reestablish the Opera Montessori which had been discontinued during the Fascist regime. Then in 1948, at the age of 78, she returned to India to give more training courses.
Maria Montessori died at the age of 81, on May 6, in Holland. Her contribution to humanity has long outlived the immense work she did in her lifetime. The spirit of her work continues today by many educators in many countries around the world.
References and Recommended Readings
Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Wilson, 1967.
_______. The Discovery of the Child. New York: Ballantine Books, 1972.
_______. Education and Peace. Chicago: Regnery, 1972.
_______. The Secret of Childhood. London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1936.
Standing, E.M. Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work. Fresno, CA: Library Guild, 1957.
“Maria Montessori: Through the Eyes of the Child” is reprinted from Walking with Contemplation.