Maria Montessori was, in many ways, ahead of her time. In 1870, she became one of the first female physicians in Italy to graduate from medical school. In her medical practice, her clinical observations led her to analyze how children learn, and she concluded that children build themselves from what they find in their environment.
Her desire to help children was so strong that in 1906 she gave up both her university chair and her medical practice to work with a group of young children of working parents in the San Lorenzo district of Rome. It was there that she founded the first Casa dei Bambini, or "Children's House." The Montessori approach to education was based upon her scientific observations of these children's ability to absorb knowledge from their surroundings, as well as their tireless interest in manipulating materials.
Every piece of equipment, every exercise, every practice Montessori developed was based on what she observed children to do "naturally," by themselves, unassisted by adults. Children teach themselves. This simple but profound truth inspired Montessori's lifelong pursuit of educational reform, methodology, psychology, teaching, and teacher training—all based on her dedication to furthering the self-creating process of the child.
According to Maria Montessori, "A child's work is to create the person she/he will become." Children are born with intellectual powers, which aid them in their own development. However, they cannot complete the task of self-construction without purposeful movement, exploration, and discovery in a carefully prepared environment. This environment provides the freedom to develop physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. The "Freedom Within Limits" atmosphere also nurtures a sense of order and self-discipline.