What is Montessori?


This system of education is both a philosophy of child development and a rationale for guiding such growth. It is based on the child’s developmental needs for freedom within limits, as well as a carefully prepared environment, which guarantees exposure to materials and experiences. Through this, the child develops intelligence as well as physical and psychological abilities. It is designed to take full advantage of the child’s desire to learn and his unique ability to develop his own capabilities. The child needs adults to expose him to the possibilities of his life, but the child must determine his response to those possibilities.

The main premises of Montessori education are:

  • Children are to be respected as different from adults and as individuals who differ from each other
  • The child possesses an unusual sensitivity and intellectual ability to absorb and learn from his environment that are unlike those of the adult both in quality and capacity
  • The most important years of a child’s growth are the first six years of life when unconscious learning is gradually brought to the conscious level

The child has a deep love and need for purposeful work. He works, however, not as an adult for completion of a job, but the sake of an activity itself. It is this activity which enables him to accomplish his most important goal: the development of himself – his mental, physical, and psychological powers.


The Whole Child Approach – The primary goal of a Montessori program is to help each child reach his full potential in all areas of life. Activities promote the development of social skills, emotional growth, and physical coordination as well as cognitive preparation for future intellectual academic endeavors. The holistic curriculum, under the direction of a specifically prepared teacher, allows the child to experience the joy of learning, the time to enjoy the process, and ensures the development of self-esteem. It provides the experiences from which children create their knowledge.

The Prepared Environment

In order for self-directed learning to take place, the whole learning environment – classroom, materials, and social setting / atmosphere – must be supportive of the child. The teacher provides the necessary resources, including opportunities for children to function in a safe and positive environment. Together, the teacher and child form a relationship based on trust and respect that fosters self-confidence and a willingness to try new things.

The Montessori Materials

Dr. Montessori’s observations of the kinds of things which children enjoy, and go back to repeatedly, led her to design a number of multi-sensory, sequential, and self-correcting materials to facilitate learning.

The Teacher

Originally called a “directress”, the Montessori teacher functions as a designer of the environment, resource person, role model, demonstrator, record-keeper and meticulous observer of each child’s behavior and growth. The teacher facilitates learning. Extensive training is required, and is specialized for the age group with which a teacher will work, i.e. infant and toddler, pre-primary, or elementary level.


Maria Montessori saw much need for reform in the educational system of her day, just as we see the same need for reform in our educational system today. Her goal was to develop the whole personality of the child, and her system is based on a strong belief in the spontaneous working of the human intellect. Her three primary principles are observation, individual liberty, and preparation of the environment. These principles and their various practical expressions with children are gradually becoming part of our educational system. Modern kindergarten classrooms use the child-sized furniture and didactic materials first introduced by Montessori. Such current concepts as individualized learning and readiness programs, manipulative learning, ungraded classes, combined age groups, team teaching, and open classrooms reflect many of her early insights.

Parents of young children want to feel safe and secure in leaving their children in an environment that provides for all of their academic, social and emotional needs. A Montessori environment does meet all of the above needs, but it also teaches children an “I can do it” attitude that will ensure their future success in all aspects of their life. Below are some characteristics and benefits of the Montessori method:

  • Three year age span of children within the classroom – Older children teaching younger children, sense of community, builds self-esteem.
  • Self-correcting materials within the environment – Children learn through their own errors to make the correct decision versus having the teacher point it out to them.
  • Individual learning takes place within the environment – Montessori recognizes that each child learns at a different pace and allows that growth to take place.
  • Children are quiet by choice and out of respect for others within the environment – The Montessori classroom allows children to return to the “inner peace” that is a natural part of their personalities.
  • There is an emphasis on concrete learning rather than on abstract learning – Children need to experience concepts in concrete “hands on” ways.
  • It is a child centered environment – All the materials are easily within the child’s reach, placed on shelves at their levels. The tables and chairs are small enough for the children to sit comfortably while the pictures and decorations are placed at the children’s eye level.
  • The children work for the joy of working and the sense of discovery – Children are natural leaders or “sponges” and delight in learning new tasks. Their interests lie in the work itself rather than in the end product.
  • The environment provides a natural sense of discipline – The “ground rules” or expectations of the child are clearly stated and are enforced by the children and the teachers.
  • The environment is “prepared” for the children – Everything in the room has a specific place on the shelf. Children are orderly by nature and having the room set this way allows them to grow in a very positive way.
  • The teacher plays a very unobtrusive role in the classroom – The children are not motivated by the teacher, but by the need for self-development.

The items found on the shelves in the classroom are “materials” rather than “toys.” The children “work with the materials” rather than “play with the toys.” This allows the children to gain the most benefit from the environment by giving them a sense of worth – the same sense of worth adults experience as they go to their jobs and do their “work”.


An essential part of the learning environment is the other children in it. The Montessori classroom provides ample opportunities for making friends, interacting with others, developing consideration for others, learning how to cooperate and fostering a sense of interdependence.

Community of Learners

In the prepared environment, cooperation and a sense of community are stressed. Individual differences are easily accepted and appreciated while each child is treated and taught as an individual. Children of different ages are together in the same group. This provides abundant opportunities for learning and helps to create a sense of family while everyone contributes and takes responsibility for the functioning and maintenance of the environment.


Because of the multi-aged group, the classroom has a heritage. The older children provide leadership and guidance, and act as models for the younger children. The older children also benefit by helping younger children, which reinforces previous skills and knowledge, and provides the satisfaction of helping others. The mix of ages also provides opportunities for a variety of safe, lasting, and meaningful friendships.

Social Development

The social life of the children is a vital aspect of the Montessori classroom and curriculum. Assisting the social skills, development, and abilities of children is vital to the implementation of an effective Montessori program. It is important that the complexities of relationships are supported and enhanced by adults sensitive to the needs and social development of children.

Famous attendees of Montessori education:

  • Joshua Bell, American violinist
  • Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com
  • David Blaine, magician
  • Sergey Brin and Larry Page, co-founders of Google
  • Julia Child, author and  television chef
  • Chelsea Clinton, daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton
  • George Clooney, Academy Award-winning actor
  • Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, music performer/producer
  • Dakota Fanning, Academy Award nominated actress
  • Anne Frank, World War II diarist
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Prize winner for literature
  • Melissa Gilbert, actress
  • Katherine Graham, owner-editor of The Washington Post
  • Helen Hunt, Academy Award-winning actress
  • Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, former First Lady and author
  • Prince William and Prince Harry, English Royal Family
  • Lea Salonga, multi-awarded singer and Broadway actress
  • Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia
  • Will Wright, designer of The Sim video games