On January 6, 1907, in the slums of Rome, Italy, medical doctor and university professor, Dr. Maria Montessori starts her first Casa dei Bambini for children, ages three through six. Within a few months, there is a transformation in the children. They change from fearful, destructive, unresponsive children to bright and happy children with dignity and an eagerness to learn. Montessori and her work become famous quite suddenly. From that time until her death in 1952, she works untiringly on behalf of children as she continues to develop and perfect her method, write books, lecture, and train teachers in the method she calls simply Help to Life.
In the midst of a teacher-training course in India, World War II is declared and Montessori, being Italian and therefore on the wrong side of the war, is given no permission to travel but is allowed to continue with her training courses. Also trapped in India for the duration of the war are Swiss citizens, Charles and Elisabeth Caspari. Elisabeth, professor of music pedagogy, promptly enrolls in Montessori’s course thinking that she can learn something in it to apply to her teaching of music to children. As she tells the story, “I never returned to my school of music.” Soon after the course ends, the Caspari’s are put to work teaching in an American school for children of missionaries in the hills of Kodaikanal, the same place where Montessori is sent to reside from 1941 through 1945. The two women share a close relationship and soon open a Montessori school in the Caspari home, taught by Lena Wikramaratne who later emigrates to join the Montessori movement in the United States. As an engineer, Charles Caspari is called upon to assist in the development of many of the Montessori elementary materials. It is there in Kodaikanal in 1945 that Montessori gives her only course on Cosmic Education.
During those years, Elisabeth Caspari receives personal teaching from Montessori and through that obtains a deeper understanding of the application and implication of this Help to Life. In her own words she describes her relationship with Montessori: “Everyday after Charles and I finished our classes we would gallop to her bungalow and there we would spend many happy hours together.” The impact of Montessori’s message upon Elisabeth Caspari’s life is transforming. From that time on, Caspari becomes a self proclaimed “Montessori Gypsy.” Wherever she and Charles travel, they bring the Montessori message with them and touch the hearts of countless children, parents and teachers.
When the war ends, Elisabeth and Charles come to America and bring with them Montessori’s approach to child education. Most Montessori schools that had opened earlier in the century following Maria Montessori’s triumphal American tour had been closed for more than thirty years. Caspari’s Montessori schools flourish and thus a critical demand for trained teachers begins. Elisabeth Caspari begins preparing teachers for her schools and elicits the help of her friend from India, Miss Lena.
With the death of Maria Montessori in 1952, the world wide movement continues to spread through efforts of her son, Mario Montessori, and many other students who are now passing on their knowledge.
Love is the Key becomes Caspari’s motto for her training program in the 1950s. During the 1960s she once again takes up the study of Montessori education, this time in Italy with Dr. Sorge. In 1973, she co-founds the Pan American Montessori Society in Mexico City with her student, Dr. Feland Meadows. Together they train hundreds of teachers in the United States and Mexico.
One of those students is Anita Wolberd who completes her teacher certification in 1985 in Los Angeles, California. After Mrs. Wolberd successfully operates her own school in Billings, Montana for five years, she with the help of Dr. Caspari establishes Montessori Garden School in Montana’s Paradise Valley in 1992. Soon after, they begin conducting Montessori teacher training courses twice annually.
After fulfilling all the requirements of the Pan American Montessori Society’s Master Teacher training program in June of 1996, Anita Wolberd receives her Master Teacher certificate which qualifies her to prepare teachers in the Montessori method of education. Caspari and Wolberd continue to conduct teacher-training courses together and in July of 1998, they form Caspari Montessori Institute. Caspari announces at that time that she has chosen her student and friend Anita Wolberd to carry forward her work of preparing Montessori teachers. Dr. Caspari confers to Mrs. Wolberd her Maria Montessori Centenary Medal as a symbol of the passing of her mantle and mission.
On September 5, 1999, CMI hosts Dr. Caspari’s 100th birthday celebration in Bozeman, Montana. Students, friends and representatives from the American Montessori Society and the Pan American Montessori Society gather to honor her long life and contribution to Montessori education. Teaching and consulting to the last days, Elisabeth Caspari dies in her Paradise Valley, Montana home on July 11, 2002, at the age of 102.
Anita Wolberd carries on the timeless and inspiring Montessori message through CMI in a format that is apropos for today’s aspiring teachers who are diligently preparing themselves to help young life and for today’s parents who seek to become more knowledgeable, observant, and skillful as they support their child’s developmental journey to adulthood.
More about Maria Montessori
Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) brought an approach to education that was revolutionary in her time and has been validated repeatedly in ours. She was born in Chiaravalle, Northern Italy and educated in Rome in scientific studies of mathematics, engineering, biology and medicine. As a practicing physician and surgeon, the first female medical doctor in Italy, she returned to the University of Rome to study philosophy, psychology and anthropology. With this extensive knowledge of the human being: the body, mind, soul, and social systems, she turned her observant eye and brilliant mind to the education of young children. In her first school, 1907, she prepared an environment that stimulated purposeful activity and allowed individual freedom. Through observation of the children in this prepared environment she discovered that the normal characteristics of childhood include a love of order, desire for work more than play, dislike of rewards and punishments, a striving for independence, and the children revealed to her their deep sense of personal dignity. The experiment was repeated in nearby schools and then in Montessori schools on all continents, cultures, and with children from all levels of social status. The results were the same, bringing a critical demand for her message, method, and for Montessori trained teachers. The last half of her life was spent developing educational materials, writing, lecturing, and inspiring teachers to carry on her work. Montessori’s discoveries have had significant influence on current child care and educational practices. Today there are more than 5,000 Montessori schools (public and private) in the United States and many more in more than 80 countries of the world. She referred to her great contribution as simply “Help to life.”
More about Elisabeth Caspari
Dr. Elisabeth Caspari was one of the foremost experts in presenting the Montessori message for six decades. She was born in Chateau d’Oex, Switzerland in 1899 and educated in Lausanne, Switzerland, culminating with a Doctoral Degree in Music Pedagogy in 1927. She studied directly with Dr. Maria Montessori during the Third Indian Course, in Madras, 1941-1942, and following that had a close association with Montessori at Kodaikanal, India for four years. In 1964, she returned to Montessori studies in Verona, Italy where she received the Montessori Preschool and Elementary Teacher Certificate from the renowned Dr. Sorge. Dr. Caspari taught hundreds of Montessori teachers and established schools around the United States and Mexico. She was a sought after speaker at Montessori conferences and received prestigious awards from Montessori societies, including the American Montessori Society (AMS) and the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (MACTE). Dr. Caspari remained an active consultant to Caspari Montessori Institute’s Teacher Education Program until her passing in 2002. Thousands of students and friends around the world have taken to heart the motto of Elisabeth Caspari: Love is the Key.
The world will come.
It is not our words that do the work.
It is not us.
It is the children who open the door.
The children show the results.
Elisabeth Caspari, May 15, 2002