Child, Youth, and Family Studies, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version

March 2006


Published in Applied Developmental Psychology 27 (2006), pp. 183–187. Copyright © 2006 Elsevier Inc. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2005.12.012 Used by permission.


Review of: Angeline Stoll Lillard, Montessori: The science behind the genius, Oxford University Press, 2005.

Montessori education is the subject of Angeline Lillard’s book. Montessori, a brilliant figure who was Italy’s first woman physician, created an approach that reflected a late 19th century vision of mental development and theoretical kinship with the great European progressive educational philosophers, Jean-Jacque Rousseau, Johann Pestalozzi and Fredrich Froebel (Edwards, 2002 and Edwards, 2003). The many parallels between her ideas and those of the American progressive, John Dewey, her contemporary, are due to the fact that their ideas grew out of shared theoretical roots and were responsive to the social and cultural transformations engendered by the industrial revolution. Montessori is the only woman regularly listed as one of the very great figures in the history and philosophy of education, and up until 2002 when the European Union issued the Euro as common currency, her country’s deep regard was indicated by her face on the Italian 1000 Lira bill.

As Lillard’s book explains, Montessori’s vision anticipated many of the twentieth century’s developments in child psychology and education. Montessori was convinced that children’s natural intelligence involved, from the start, rational, empirical, and spiritual aspects. After drawing on Edouard Seguin’s and Jean Itard’s work to innovate a methodology for working with children with disabilities, she started her Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) in 1907 for children aged 4–7 in a housing project in the poor slums of Rome. Her educational movement (including her highly original concepts for curriculum materials, child-sized furniture, classroom layout, mixed age grouping of children, and teaching strategies) spread to other countries, especially once Mussolini’s Fascist regime denounced her methods and Montessori left Italy to live the rest of her life abroad.