Montessori at a Glance

The Montessori Method

What is a Montessori School?

There is often a lot of confusion surrounding the term Montessori. “Montessori” is simply a description of the educational system created by Dr. Maria Montessori in the early twentieth century. There are private, public, and religious Montessori schools, but the curriculum itself has no basis in religion. Dr. Montessori was a strong Catholic who saw God’s work in nature and in science. She designed her elementary curriculum while under house arrest in India during the Second World War.

All of Dr. Montessori’s writings were based on her observations of children in the classroom. She watched their patterns, habits, the way they responded to teachers, and the way they interacted. Much of what she saw and incorporated into her methodology as basic Montessori principles continue to be touted in modern circles as needed by children, but are not always implemented in traditional classrooms.

A Few Examples of the Montessori Method:

Movement aids learning. In a Montessori school classroom, movement is built into the work and into the lessons so that children do not spend long periods of time sitting still. For example, the work of “Golden Beads” requires that students make multiple trips to the “bank” to fetch the golden beads that they need to do their math problem. Other lessons such as the “Pink Tower” and the “Red Rods” have young children moving their materials from the shelf to their work rug very carefully.

Mastery over grades. Dr. Montessori understood that children need to master a concept before introducing them to new material. Therefore, in a Montessori classroom each child works where they are for who they are. Rather than having a set amount of time in which to learn something, a Montessori student works to mastery. This means that children who learn quickly have the ability to move through the curriculum at their pace while children who need more time to understand a concept can continue working at it without feeling as if they are holding up the classroom. Each child receives an individualized education.

Intrinsic motivation: Also known as self-motivation, Dr. Montessori believed that children should learn that the feeling of accomplishment that comes from achieving a goal is greater than an external reward. Studies show that extrinsic reward systems collapse over time as rewards lose their allure, unless they become greater and greater. Learning to do something because it needs to be done and taking pride in your work is far more beneficial in life than certificates and praise.

Collaborative learning. One of the best ways to demonstrate mastery of a subject is to teach someone else. Montessori classrooms are mixed-age classrooms that provide younger students the ability to learn from older students. They provide older students the opportunity to build leadership skills by role-modeling, assisting, and guiding the younger students.

Planes of development. Dr. Montessori broke down the development of a child’s brain into four planes. Each plane lasts for six years with a mid-point in between. These planes defined the creation of multi-age classrooms based on the similarities in children within each plane.

First Plane (Birth to Six Years)
Second Plane (Six to Twelve Years)
Third Plane (Twelve to Eighteen Years)
Fourth Plane (Eighteen to Twenty-Four Years)

So, what is Montessori? Montessori classrooms are designed to provide children with the opportunity to receive an individualized education; become internally motivated; establish a solid foundation for future learning; build confidence; and to create a love of learning.

“The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

Who Was Dr. Maria Montessori?

The Montessori approach to education was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, one of the first female physicians in Italy, in the late 1800s. Born in Chiaravalle, Italy on August 31, 1870 to parents who placed a high value on education, Dr. Montessori graduated from medical school in 1896. Her interests in psychiatry, education, and child development put her on a path to revolutionize the way children were taught. For several years, she co-directed a training institute for special education teachers. The gains made by the students inspired her to continue her work and in 1907, she was asked to open a childcare center in San Lorenzo, an inner-city district of Rome.

Using materials she created to work with special needs students, Dr. Montessori continued to hone her methods. Word of the school’s success quickly spread as educators around the world learned of her work. The first Montessori school in the United States opened in Tarrytown, NY in 1911.

Throughout her career, Dr. Montessori traveled the world training teachers, giving lectures, and advocating for women and children. She was nominated three-times for the Nobel Peace Prize. Having lived through two World Wars, Dr. Montessori saw education as the only vehicle towards peace. Incorporated throughout her curriculum and within the foundation of her method is the importance of helping children to understand that we are all different, but that is what makes the world truly remarkable.

Dr. Montessori died on May 6, 1952 in a friend’s garden in Amsterdam.

For more information on the life and work of Dr. Montessori, please visit the American Montessori Society website.