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Maria Montessori was born in Ancona, Italy, in 1870. She was the first woman to become a physician in Italy and studied at the University of Rome. She specialized in psychiatry and pediatrics and taught medical school at the University of Rome.
Maria's began working with children by accepting speaking engagements in Europe relating to peace efforts, helping with the women's movement, and also performing as an activist in the child labor law reform. This caused her to become well-regarded and well-known in Europe.
In 1901, Maria became the Director of the University of Rome's new orthophrenic school. She began to initiate the reform wave for mentally handicapped children. She first took the idea of initiating a scientific approach to the education of these children from Jean Itard and Edoard Seguin. The Child Study School of Thought took her in as a member.
Maria studied her mentally handicapped children, figuring out what they wanted, who they were inside, and what were the best working methods when interacting with them. These studies allowed "deficient" adolescents to pass the Italian public school's standard grade six tests, but they were denied entry because of their conditions.
In 1907, Maria coordinated day-care centers for children that were too young for public education. These came to be called "Children's Houses." Her experiment turned out very hectic, however, but she had the older children help out and also used some puzzles that she had used with her mentally handicapped children. The results were that the children began to settle themselves, played with the puzzles, and learned everyday living skills. Their behavior also changed as well. They went from wild and unruly to proper, graceful, and diligent. Maria also taught them to read and write so that the four and five year olds were working on problems fit for kids in 3rd grade or higher. She also built tables and chairs instead of desks so the students could interact more with each other.
This way of teaching came to be called the Montessori method. It expanded and became widely used. Schools were set up using it in both Europe and North America.
Maria died in 1952, a great pioneer for education of mentally handicapped children.