After the establishment of the first Casa dei Bambini in Rome, 1907, the news of the miracle children was quick to spread to Italy’s neighbouring countries, and the rest of world. Interest in this new form of education spread to the Netherlands, and a few Dutch early childhood educators set off for Rome to study at the international teacher training courses that Maria Montessori started in 1913.
In 1914, the first group of Dutch children gathered in the home of Mrs. J.J. Werker in The Hague, who had set up a small Montessori ‘Casa dei Bambini’. Soon afterwards, few other schools opened their doors in other parts of the country. With Montessori education increasingly finding groups of parents interested to have their children enjoy this new type of education, it was desirable to pool resources and knowledge, and coordinate the necessary lobbying with educational authorities: these considerations led, in 1917, to the foundation of an official Dutch Montessori Society, to become a resource for Dutch Montessorians and to liaise with Maria Montessori.
As ever, the demand for and availability of good quality materials made in accordance with the scientific specifications required by Maria Montessori was a prime concern: a special materials committee took it upon itself to have the Montessori materials made in country, as it was not always easy to import the materials from England or Italy. The Dutch Society established a Leermiddelenhuis (didactic apparatus centre), which by 1922 was fully operational. In 1923, when Maria Montessori gave a teacher training course in Amsterdam she gave extensive feedback on how the materials had been produced, and she discussed alternative colours for certain materials. In 1922, the Leermiddelenhuis was granted a special contract by Maria Montessori allowing them to produce materials “with a blessing” - a contract which was renewed ten years later.
Around 1926 a carpenter named Albert Nienhuis joined the Leermiddelen company. He was experienced in making small wooden objects, and was asked to assist with the Montessori materials. He first created the abacus, then The Geometric Cabinet and progressed on to more intricate materials such as the 1000 cube. As business grew, Mr Nienhuis’ two sons also joined the company.
Continue production of the Montessori ‘apparatus’
During the Second World War, when most goods were in short supply, Albert Nienhuis proved to be exceedingly resourceful in finding the necessary ‘raw materials’ that allowed him to continue production of the Montessori ‘apparatus’. In 1945, after the war, the showroom of materials was moved to the Nienhuis family home in The Hague — and from that time the manufacture and sales were managed by the same company. As the demand for materials grew, the company found itself short of the necessary space and eventually, it was decided to relocate to the small town of Zelhem, in the East of the Netherlands. There it evolved into a truly international manufacturer of Montessori materials, making the materials according to the blueprints as specified, first by Maria Montessori and Mario Montessori and later by the AMI Materials Committee to which the Montessoris’ had delegated the responsibility of liaising with Nienhuis.