Rivka Galchen at Harper’s Magazine:
She hires the daughter of a custodian to teach kindergarten. It is 1907 in a poor neighborhood in Rome, where there has never been a kindergarten before. An agency tasked with improving neighborhoods in the city is trying to provide a place for children to go while their parents are working, and Maria Montessori has been asked to run the program. Montessori instructs the inexperienced teacher that the children should be allowed to lie on the floor or sit under the table—to do whatever they want. Observe them closely and tell me what you notice, she says. The new teacher reports back: the children are more interested in helping her sweep than in playing with the donated toys. Montessori writes this down. One day when Montessori is on her way to the classroom, she notices a peaceful baby girl with her mother in the courtyard. She invites them in and challenges the young children to be as quiet as the baby. This goes well. Montessori decides to make a ritual out of it: a period of silence for the children, one that ends when each child is called by name into the next room. This, also, the children love. The practice is adopted.