“A defining period in Montessori’s outlook”: Letters from India

Maria Montessori Writes to Her Grandchildren

In October 1939, while the “storm of war was gathering in Europe”, Maria and Mario Montessori set off to India to deliver a training course and lecture tour. When Italy became involved in the war, the British rule of India did not give the Montessoris permission to leave; they were to spend close to seven years in India, which would become a defining period in Montessori’s outlook on life and education.

Maria & Mario Montessori with Rukmini Devi & George Arundale (Adyar/Chennai)

“Only the collaboration between the children and the adults will be able to solve the problems of our time.”
Maria Montessori Writes to Her Grandchildren 1

The letters Montessori wrote to her four teenage grandchildren in Holland give a completely new, private insight into that compellingly interesting period. We see a woman who is deeply connected to her family and friends. We also see her strong commitment to bringing progress and fighting illiteracy in India, which grew into an enduring love for the country and its people. Montessori’s colourful descriptions of her journey and life in India, her worries about her grandchildren in war-torn Europe, and her son’s imprisonment make a fascinating read.

Source: Maria Montessori Writes to Her Grandchildren (Association Montessori Internationale Montessori 150 © 2021)
https://montessori150.org/maria-montessori/montessori-books/maria-montessori-writes-her-grandchildren
Date Visited: 7 June 2023

Italian currency bill 3 October 1990

“Uttarayam”, Santiniketan, Bengal
6 January 1940

Dear Dr. Montessori,

It is a great joy to hear from you and have your good wishes which I warmly reciprocate. As you know, I am a great admirer of your work in education, and along with my countrymen think it very fortunate indeed that India, at this hour, can get your guidance in creative self-expression. 2 I am confident, that education of the young, which must underly all work of national reconstruction, will find a new and lasting inspiration from your presence.

May I hope that you will visit our Institution when you come to Bengal.

With kind regards,
Yours sincerely

Rabindranath Tagore 3

From 1939 until 1947 Dr. Maria Montessori worked closely with Rukmini Devi, founder of Kalakshetra (est. in 1936 in Adyar/Madras, now part of Chennai), an institution established for the integration of India’s cultural heritage and learning. Kalakshetra stands for an integrated approach to education all realms education – social, economic, crafts and performing arts, being both inspired and guided by India’s first Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore whose  pioneering concept for informal learning was first tested and further developed at Santiniketan (“abode of peace”).

These pioneering efforts remain as relevant today as in the early 20th century when Maria Montessori and her associates realized that true education is more than a tool for succeeding in life as an individual or member of one’s own society: it is the very key to world peace and social justice (see, for example, her 1932 “Peace and Education” lecture published by the International Bureau of Education, Geneva).

  1. “Report on the First Indian Training Course in Education” (Madras, 11 November 1939) by Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) quoted in Maria Montessori Writes to her Grandchildren: letters from India, 1939-1946 (Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company, 2020, p. 38[]
  2. man expresses himself age after age in new creations[]
  3. Transcription from a typewritten letter seen at Association Montessori Internationale in Amsterdam[]