The Montessori method was developed in a housing project in Italy around the turn of the century. Maria Montessori was asked to direct a school for the children of factory workers in what she called "Casa dei Bambini", or Children's House. She experimented with different approaches, lead by scientific observation, ultimately settling on the idea that children learn better when the learning comes from within. She flip-flopped the teacher-child relationship, putting the child in the spotlight instead of the teacher.
In a Montessori classroom, everything is child-sized, and the children are encouraged and expected to use the space to their full advantage. When they are hungry, they help themselves to food. When they are thirsty, they fetch themselves a glass of water. When something spills, they clean it up. In the same way the children learn to take care of themselves and their classroom, children follow their interests in academic areas. All the tools and materials they need are readily accessible to them to learn and grow very little adult intervention. Children discover concepts through didactic, or hands-on, materials.
This new way of learning gained attention in Italy and around the world. In 1915, the World's Fair even had a glass classroom, where spectators could come see a Montessori classroom in action. What spectators saw were children developing their own capabilities and motivation; they saw the Montessori Method at work. This method stood the test of time! Today, there are about 4,500 Montessori schools in the United States and about 20,000 across the globe.