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New South Wales - Concept

Montessori Method (1910 - )

Alternative Names
  • Montessori (also known as)

Montessori Method was a form of education developed by Italian doctor and pioneering educator Maria Montessori (1870-1952). Maria Montessori inspired educators and reformers all over the world to believe that mentally and physically disabled children could learn. Her ideas influenced institutions run by the New South Wales State Children's Relief Department and Montessori methods are still, in 2013, the basis for most special education programmes and many preschools.


Maria Montessori began offering training courses in Rome in 1910. By 1915 her ideas and methods were being applied in children's homes and special schools in Australia.

Maria Montessori had worked with intellectually and physically disabled children and, by observing them closely and recognising their capacities, changed the way they were taught and produced remarkable results. She then worked with 'normal' children and became confirmed in her belief that the teacher's role was to foster a child's independence. Montessori's method was to allow children to move more freely in the room and choose their own activity, and provide furniture and shelving at child-size. Tasks such as sweeping, flower arranging, cooking and the care of the self and pets were added to the curriculum, as was self-care, such as hand washing and gymnastics. Music, dance and joyfulness were also considered very important.

Dr Charles Mackellar, the president of the State Children's Relief Board from 1902-1916, was an 'expert' on feeble-mindedness and mental deficiency, and believed people with those conditions should be separated from the mainstream community and offered special education. He was an advocate for Montessori's ideas and used Montessori-trained teachers to run the first school programmes offered to 'mentally deficient' and 'feeble-minded' children in State Children's Relief Department institutions. In his annual reports, Mackellar wrote about the results achieved by bringing music, dance, drumming and craft into institutions. This was a vast improvement on 19th century practices of placing disabled children in asylums.

Montessori's ideas were slowly incorporated into the broader education system, firstly in the kindergarten and day nursery movement, and then in primary schools.

Over her lifetime, Maria Montessori developed several training centres and institutes which still train teachers in her methods. She inspired Rudolf Steiner, who also pioneered programmes of general and special education. Maria Montessori's work remains important in kindergarten and preschool education, special education and broader education philosophies of child-centred learning.

Related Concepts

Related Glossary Terms

  • Mental Defective

    Montessori method was introduced to Australia to educate children classified as mental defectives.

    Date: c. 1915 -

Related Organisations



  • Report of the State Children's Relief Department, W.A. Gullick, Government Printer, Sydney, 1881-1893. Details

Online Resources

Sources used to compile this entry: Report of the State Children's Relief Department, W.A. Gullick, Government Printer, Sydney, 1881-1893; Parry, Naomi, 'Such a longing': black and white children in welfare in New South Wales and Tasmania, 1880-1940, Department of History, University of New South Wales, 2007, 361 pp,

Prepared by: Naomi Parry