Montessori, the White Cross and Trauma-Informed Practice

Lessons for Contemporary Education




Montessori, the White Cross, Trauma-informed, Childhood Adversity/Trauma, Education


Childhood adversity and trauma are pervasive and have powerful, far-reaching consequences for health and well-being. Recent years have seen increased recognition of the need for trauma-informed practice, which aims to promote understanding, healing, and the prevention of retraumatization. Historical data show that the early Montessori schools were known internationally as healing schools, wherein children affected by adversity or trauma were apparently healed on a considerable scale. This study presents the findings from a documentary analysis of three primary sources, namely, Maria Montessori’s own original accounts, eyewitness accounts, and media reports pertaining to this healing aspect of the early Montessori schools. The findings demonstrate that, first, from the beginning of her career, Montessori worked with children who had experienced significant exposure to adversity or trauma, second, that her Montessori Method was shown to affect healing or recovery in these children, and third, that her long involvement with trauma-affected children directly led to her later attempts to set up an organization to be called the White Cross, which was to incorporate, among other things, a trauma-informed course for teacher–nurses. In this innovative approach to Montessori studies, we argue that Montessori was ahead of her time, that her work is even more relevant today in the context of adversity and trauma research, and that her methods, principles, and approaches may be harnessed and used in ways that promote trauma-informed practice in contemporary education settings.

Author Biographies

Bernadette Phillips, Maynooth University

Bernadette Phillips is a PhD candidate at Maynooth University, Ireland. Her research, which is funded by the Irish Research Council, focuses on Montessori schools as healing environments. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Bernadette Phillips, Department of Education, Maynooth University, Ireland. Email:

Catriona O'Toole, Maynooth University, Ireland

Catriona O’Toole is a chartered psychologist and an assistant professor in the psychology of education at the Department of Education, Maynooth University, Ireland. She has a particular expertise in school-based, trauma informed practice and mental health promotion.

Sinéad McGilloway, Maynooth University

Sinéad McGilloway is a professor and founder director of the Centre for Mental Health and Community Research at the Department of Psychology at Maynooth University, Ireland. Her research focuses on the well-being of children and families.



Stephen Phillips

Stephen Phillips is an independent researcher of Montessori education. He is currently a deputy manager, practitioner, and special educational needs coordinator in a large after-school setting.


Alexander, J. (2019). Building trauma-sensitive schools: Your guide to creating safe, supportive learning environments for all students. Brookes.

Babini, V. (2000). Science, feminism and education: The early work of Maria Montessori. History Workshop Journal, 49(1), 44–67.

Bailey, C. S. (1915). Montessori children. Holt

Bowen, G. A. (2009). Document analysis as a qualitative research method. Qualitative Research Journal, 9(2), 27–40.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.

Bressan, D. (2012, December 28). December 28, 1908: The tsunami of Messina. History of Geology.

Burke Harris, N. (2019). The deepest well: Healing the long-term effects of childhood adversity. Marine Books.

Cherry, L. (2021). Conversations that make a difference for children and young people: Relationship-focused practice from the frontline. Routledge.

Cole, S. F., Greenwald O’Brien, J., Gadd, M. G., Ristuccia, J., Wallace, D. L., & Gregory, M. (2005). Helping traumatized children learn: Supportive school environments for children traumatized by family violence. Massachusetts Advocates for Children, Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative.

Cossentino, J. (2016). Montessori schools help children exposed to trauma. In L. Flores Shaw (Ed.), The Montessori White Papers, Vol. 2 (pp. 9–16). White Paper Press.

Craig, S. E. (2016). Trauma sensitive schools: Learning communities transforming children’s lives, K–5 (Illustrated ed.). Teachers College Press.

Cromwell, M. (2006). The Montessori Method adapted to the little French and Belgian refugees. AMI Communications, 2, 11–13. (Original work published 1916)

Fallot, R. D., & Harris, M. (2009). Creating cultures of trauma-informed care: A self- assessment and planning protocol. Community Connections.

Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., Koss, M. P., & Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245–258.

Fisher, D. C. (1912). A Montessori mother. Henry Holt & Company.

Foschi, R. (2008). Science and culture around the Montessori’s first “Children’s Houses” in Rome (1907–1915). Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 44(3), 238–257.

George, A. E. (1912, July). Dr. Maria Montessori: The achievement and personality of an Italian woman whose discovery is revolutionizing educational methods. Good Housekeeping, 55(1), 24–29.

Gutek, G., & Gutek, P. (2017). Bringing Montessori to America: S.S. McClure, Maria Montessori, and the campaign to publicize Montessori education. University of Alabama Press.

Herman, J. L. (2015). Trauma and recovery: The aftermath of violence—from domestic abuse to political terror. Basic Books.

Jennings, P. A. (2019). The trauma-sensitive classroom: Building resilience with compassionate teaching. W. W. Norton & Company.

Kramer, R. (1976). Maria Montessori: A biography. Addison-Wesley.

Lillard, A. (2011). Mindfulness practices in education: Montessori’s approach. Mindfulness, 2, 78–85.

Marguiles, A. R. (1913). Montessori and her Method. American Annals of the Deaf, 58(5), 496–502.

Maté, G. (2019). When the body says no: The cost of hidden stress. Vermilion.

Mayfield, M. (2006). Maria Montessori: Advocate for children. AMI Communications, 2, 4–9.

Maynard, B. R., Farina, A., Dell, N. A., & Kelly, M. S. (2019). Effects of trauma-informed approaches in schools: A systematic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews, 15(1-2), Article e1018.

Montessori, M. (2013). The White Cross. AMI Journal, 1-2, 37–41. (Original work published 1917)

Montessori, M. (1936). The secret of childhood (B. B. Carter, Ed. and Trans.). Longmans.

Montessori, M. (1964). The Montessori method (A. E. George, Trans.). Schocken Books. (Original work published 1912) Montessori, M. (1966). The secret of childhood (M. J. Costelloe, Trans). Ballantine.

Montessori, M. (1967). The absorbent mind (C. A. Claremont, Trans). Dell. (Original work published 1949)

Montessori, M. (2008). The California lectures of Maria Montessori, 1915: Collected speeches and writings (R. Buckenmeyer, Ed.). The Clio Montessori Series. Montessori-Pierson.

Moretti, E. (2014). Beyond biological ties: Sibilla Aleramo, Maria Montessori, and the construction of social motherhood. Italian Culture, 32(1), 32–49.

Moretti, E. (2021). The best weapon for peace: Maria Montessori, education, and children’s rights. University of Wisconsin Press.

Mulholland, M., & O’Toole, C. (2021). When it matters most: A trauma-informed, outdoor learning programme to support children’s wellbeing during COVID-19 and beyond. Irish Educational Studies, 40(2), 329–340.

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2020). Connecting the brain to the rest of the body: Early childhood development and lifelong health are deeply intertwined, Working Paper No. 15.

Overstreet, S., & Chafouleas, S. M. (2016). Trauma-informed schools: Introduction to the special issue. School Mental Health, 8, 1–6.

Perry, B. D. (2009). Examining child maltreatment through a neurodevelopment lens: Clinical applications of the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 14(4), 240–245.

Perry, B. D., Pollard, R. A., Blakley, Y. L., Baker, W. L., & Vigilante, D. (1995). Childhood trauma, the neurobiology of adaptation, and use-dependent development of the brain: How states become traits. Infant Mental Health Journal, 16(4), 271–291.;2-B

Perry, B. D., & Szalavitz, M. (2017). The boy who was raised as a dog: And other stories from a child psychiatrist’s notebook—what traumatized children can teach us about loss, love, and healing. Basic Books.

Perry, B. D., & Winfrey, O. (2021). What happened to you? Conversations on trauma, resilience, and healing. Pan Macmillan.

Phillips, S., & Phillips, B. (2016). Healing early childhood trauma: The Montessori way. CreateSpace Independent Publishing.

Pino, N. A., Piatanesi, A., Valensisi, G., Boschi, E. (2008). The 28 December 1908, Messina Straits earthquake (Mw 7.1): A great earthquake through a century of seismology. Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia.

Povell, P. (2010). Montessori comes to America: The leadership of Maria Montessori and Nancy McCormick Rambusch. University Press of America.

Radice, S. (1920). The new children: Talks with Dr. Maria Montessori. Frederick A. Stokes Company.

Scocchera, A. (2013). Montessori, the White Cross, and Prof. Ferrari. AMI Journal, 1-2, 48–50. (Original work published 2002)

Sorrels, B. (2015). Reaching and teaching children exposed to trauma. Gryphon House.

Standing, E. M. (1957). Maria Montessori: Her life and work. Plume.

Stevens, E. Y. (1912). The Montessori Method and the American kindergarten. McClure’s Magazine, 40, 77–82.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). SAMHSA’s concept of trauma and guidance for a trauma-informed approach. SAMHSA’s Trauma and Justice Strategic Initiative.

The White Cross: Care of child victims of the war. (1917, September 24). The Times of London.

The White Cross: Montessori’s scheme for healing the wounded minds of child war victims. (1916, September 18). London Daily News.

Thomas, M. S., Crosby, S., & Vanderhaar, J. (2019). Trauma-informed practices in schools across two decades: An interdisciplinary review of research. Review of Research in Education, 43(1), 422–452.

Tozier, J. (1911). An educational wonder-worker: The methods of Maria Montessori. McClure’s Magazine, 37(1), 3–19.

Trabalzini, P. (2011). Maria Montessori through the seasons of the “Method.” The NAMTA Journal, 36(2).

Trabalzini, P. (2013). Nobody left behind: Montessori’s work in defence of children as victims of war. AMI Journal, 1-2, 42–45.

Treisman, K. (2017). Working with relational and developmental trauma in children and adolescents. Routledge.

van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma. Penguin.

White, J. (1914). Montessori schools: As seen in the early summer of 1913. H. Milford.

Wolpow, R., Johnson, M. M., Hertel, R., & Kincaid, S. O. (2016). The heart of learning and teaching: Compassion, resiliency, and academic success.




How to Cite

Phillips, B., O’Toole, C., McGilloway, S., & Phillips, S. (2022). Montessori, the White Cross and Trauma-Informed Practice: Lessons for Contemporary Education. Journal of Montessori Research, 8(1).