A piece of Her-story: The original Casa

A piece of Her-story: The original Casa

Jessica Langford
7 minute read

In July 2017 I was lucky enough to travel to Europe with my husband (and Montessori Child co-owner) Andrew, my Montessori mum Barb and my incredible niece Emily. We started our adventures in Prague for the International Montessori Congress and then we travelled to Rome to soak up some culture and history...and, more importantly, some herstory! Being in Rome gave us the opportunity to get up close to a vital landmark in Maria Montessori's story.
So while we did join most of the tourists in Rome by visiting sites like the Colosseum... 
 We also ventured to our own unique tourist attraction...
 Barb and I travelled together to visit the site of Dr Maria Montessori's first classroom, the original Casa dei Bambini. 
It was our pedagogical pilgrimage to step on the stones that paved the pathway to the Montessori method.
We invite you to journey with us all the way to Rome - and back in time -
to San Lorenzo and the original Casa.
The original Casa dei Bambini ("Children's House") opened in San Lorenzo, Rome, on January 6th back in 1907. 
Today the building still stands, its exterior virtually untouched from its original form.
Housed inside is a modern Montessori classroom, which is not affiliated with Dr Montessori or her family directly but embraces the unique opportunity to maintain her legacy by continuing to operate a Montessori classroom within the walls of her first Casa.
Sadly the school was closed while we were in Rome, as our visit coincided with the summer holiday period. I was disappointed that we weren't able to cross the threshold into the room itself but even stepping foot on the soil where Dr Montessori once stood felt like a privilege.
The journey...
It has been a long-held dream of mine to visit the site of the Casa, and it felt like a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts. I had been researching the journey for months prior to our trip, checking blogs, articles and Facebook comment threads to confirm the address as there seemed to be a bit of conflicting information in various sources. I'm happy to share that the correct address is most definitely Via dei Marsi "58", San Lorenzo, Rome.
The Montessori history books often use the word 'slums' to describe the area where the first Casa came to be. It was an area of significant socio-economic disadvantage. The children in this locale were effectively thought of as 'lost causes', with society holding low expectations not only for their academic performances but also for their behaviour and aptitude. Their impoverished conditions certainly had negative impacts on their health and narrowed their avenues for social mobility and well-being. When Maria began working with these children she transformed their lives. She provided them with the opportunities, tools and experiences that they needed to regain control of their lives and their futures. The news of Dr Montessori's method spread far and wide partly because society was so surprised that her approach could help children to overcome such significant disadvantage. It is important to remain conscious of these origins of the Montessori method because it helps to frame the Montessori movement not just as an educational technique but also a pathway to social justice.
Travelling to the site of the Casa certainly served as a powerful reminder of these humble beginnings. As you can see from the map above it is literally 'on the wrong side of the tracks'. The closer we got to the site, the more we were struck by the subtle signs that we had moved out of the upmarket and sanitised 'tourist' areas and towards a more authentic example of a residential zone that is still somewhat disadvantaged.
I mean no disrespect to the area or its residents (the few people we bumped into on the street seemed cheerful and friendly) but I mention the socioeconomic element because I honestly think it is vital that anyone involved in Montessori, whether as an educator, a student, or a parent, to remember that Montessori is not for "the upper class" - it is for everyone. It is true that the landscape of the Montessori world prominently features a lot of private schools in wealthy areas, but it is not an elite system. It is an education for all, for life, for peace, and for the future. 
Upon arrival...
We stepped out of the car and onto the street to discover a little gold plaque on the wall amongst the tags.
Here we were, at the gateway to the birthplace of the philosophy that guides our life. 
Commemorating the history...
As we waked through the entrance we discovered a passageway that celebrated the history of the site. The building offers residential housing as well as the operational Montessori school and I love the idea of the people who live here just strolling past this timeline each day as they head in and out of their historical home!
Through the passageway is a central courtyard, with the Casa on the far right and tall residential buildings stretching up on every side. 
As we stood in the courtyard it felt somewhat like stepping on hallowed ground. The echoes of yesterday seemed to ring in our ears as we imagined what it would have been like in those first fresh days of what would eventually become the Montessori movement.  
We had seen historical images of this place and suddenly it was alive in front of us. 
Then and now...
And then there it was, the entrance to the home of Montessori...
I climbed the steps knowing that I could only peek through the windows rather than stepping all the way inside, yet in my mind's eye I could so vividly travel back and forth in time to imagine the classroom of yesteryear alongside my own modern Montessori experiences.
When people ask me about the Montessori method one of the aspects I'm proudest to emphasise is that it is not a 'trend' in education, it is a long-running and broad-reaching philosophy that has stood the test of time and has succeeded in countless contexts in countries all over the world. The materials that transformed the lives of the children in the first Casa are the same objects that fill the hands, hearts and minds of children today. The principles and practices that Dr Montessori first started to develop back in 1907 have been refined and reinforced by more than a century of application. 
As I descended the stairs from my 'peek into the past' I was struck by a sense of being part of something much bigger than myself. I am one tiny thread in this rich tapestry of teaching. 
Barb and I both felt a sense of reverence to this site - the spiritual foundations of a philosophy that means so much to both of us - and as we took our final glances around the courtyard of the Casa we tried to soak up as much of the moment as we could. 
And so, walking back through the archway and out to the street, we said goodbye to this little piece of history. The Casa dei Bambini, the children's house, the home of Montessori.
If you are ever in that part of the world you might like to take a trip to 
Via dei Marsi "58", San Lorenzo, Rome, Italy


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