Visiting Montessori’s First Casa dei Bambini
Edit, June 2013, Please read before emailing me: I am not affiliated with the Montessori school currently operating on the site of Dr. Montessori’s original Casa dei Bambini. I was lucky enough to visit, but I do not have a contact there. I have received emails almost daily asking for help, and I am so happy to connect with other Montessorians, but I cannot facilitate a visit for you. If you do visit, I would love to hear all about and see photos, too! :)
At some point during my training, I decided that one day I would visit the site of Dr. Montessori’s first Casa dei Bambini. There was no if. I was determined to do it, but it always seemed like a far off, distant dream.
Now, friends, I have finally done it and it was every bit as wonderful as I could have hoped. I am not overly sentimental, and I don’t get particularly excited about historic places in general. They’re interesting, sure, but nothing to get all worked up over. This is different. I am so inspired by Montessori’s work, her words, the very idea of what she gave to those children all those years ago, and to all children, that visiting the first Casa dei Bambini really did feel something like I imagine a spiritual pilgrimage would. I had a grin on my face that could be rivaled only by that seen on my wedding day, and following my daughter’s birth.
When I came to Italy, I had two goals: spend some quality time with one of my dearest friends, and see the first Casa dei Bambini. Yeah, the Coliseum was neat to look at, and Venice is lovely, but I would have been satisfied with those first two things alone. Unfortunately, I didn’t do my homework and for a few days it looked like the second might not happen. I knew that there was currently a school operating on that location, but my blinding passion for Montessori led me to expect that many others like me would want to visit the site daily. I expected something akin to a museum. I expected to find all of the information I needed from a minute or two on google, and have a whole list of Montessori history related sites to visit. Unfortunately, it took more than that just to find the exact address of the first San Lorenzo school, and I realized that this was not going to be all that simple.
Once I had the school’s contact information, I expected that arranging a visit would be a breeze. I tried email first, and when my message bounced back, I started to worry. Then I spoke with someone at the Opera Nazionale Montessori, who explained that it is “impossible to visit,” since it is a public school. My heart sank.
Thanks to my poor planning and inability to speak Italian, I feared I had ruined my chances, but I decided to try anyway. I sheepishly explained my situation to the lovely, bilingual girl who ran our bed and breakfast and asked her if she would call the school on my behalf, and beg for permission to visit. I told her I only wanted to go in, just for a minute, and would even extend my stay in Rome if I needed to. She called. I listened in anticipation. I heard “ahs” and “mhms” as she looked at me defeated, and shook her head no. I almost cried. Then she stamped her foot and waved her fist in triumph and I almost cried again, this time in joy. She hung up and gave me a name, explaining that I should go during the children’s forty five minute lunch period and ask for this person, and maybe she would show me everything.
The next morning, I set out with Annabelle on my back, directions in my hand and a heart full of hope and determination. If nothing else, I would stand outside the gate and take a picture. I walked to San Lorenzo, made it to Via dei Marsi and felt like I was bouncing on air as I looked for addresses on the buildings and walked in the direction of the school. I found the school’s address and took care to ensure that my grin wasn’t so overwhelming as to be creepy as I walked through a little walkway and toward the garden. A kindly elderly man pointed me in the direction of the school’s entrance, and as I walked toward it, I saw the words CASA BAMBINI di MARIA MONTESSORI on the wall. I got butterflies, and pulled out my camera.
At that point, I thought to myself, even if this woman refuses to see me, I was here! I am here!
I walked inside the building and came to the school’s doorway. Okay, now I’m really, really here! I knocked and waited, containing myself as much as possible. A woman answered, and I nervously uttered the name of the person I had been instructed to ask for. She asked something that I hope I understood and answered correctly, but who knows, really. She held up a finger and closed the door. I waited, fingers crossed.
The door opened again and I was invited in. Inside! I was now with two women, who noticed now sleeping Annabelle on my back and smiled, oohed, and ahhed. My hostess kindly showed me inside the classroom that was just inside the door. I apologized for my inability to speak Italian, and she sweetly spoke as much English as she could manage. She allowed me to look around, and to take pictures, but I was filled with so much excitement and nervousness that I couldn’t focus. I took quite a few shots, but none of them very good. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I felt so grateful that this woman was giving up some of her lunch break for me, that I didn’t want to be too greedy. I have mixed feelings about that now, but then again, who cares. I made it!
Next, she took me outside, through the garden, and into the other little classroom. She kept telling me, half apologizing, how “little” it was. She was such a lovely woman. Looking at some of the things on the shelves that were not Montessori materials, and at the little tables and chairs, I couldn’t help but think how wonderful it is that these items no longer need to be specially made just for Montessori schools. They’re actually available from many sources, and offered to children in virtually every early years setting. Progress – and it had all been set in motion from this very place!
Finally, she showed me the children’s play area. It was strange to see the contrast between old and new, with the modern playground equipment against the backdrop of buildings well over a hundred years old. Looking at the gardens themselves, I imagined the children of the current school cultivating the same soil that children first transformed into a garden in 1907. Our tour ended there, and as my hostess said goodbye, I worked up the courage to ask her to take our picture. It’s funny now how very nervous and shy I felt, as though I were in the presence of a celebrity.
She headed back inside, and Annabelle and I lingered in the garden, soaking up as much of the wonder of that space as we could. She had just woken up from her nap, so I took her out of the mei tai on my back and she ran around for a moment, while I took pictures of her everywhere. I could not have been more happy.
The urgency I had felt since arriving in Rome, to see and do as much as possible in our short visit, completely disappeared. I had what I came for.
You can look more closely and these photos and a few more in a facebook album here.