What is the Montessori Method?

“Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.” ~ Maria Montessori


Maria Montessori was an Italian physician who while making scientific observations of children, developed a child-centered approach to education.   It is an approach that values each student individually.  She believed in the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional and cognitive. Dr. Montessori concluded that children learn best in the most natural and organic way possible ~ through exploration. She opened the first Montessori school—the Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House—in Rome on January 6, 1907.   Her first students were badly behaved at first, but soon showed great interest in working with the materials she offered them.  They learned to cook, garden, take care of their environment in addition to manipulating materials that taught math and language. She observed how they absorbed knowledge from their surroundings easily and she noticed they were teaching themselves.

In the Montessori classroom, the teacher, child and environment create a learning triangle. The classroom is prepared by the teacher to encourage independence, concentration, coordination and a sense of order. The child, through individual choice, has a freedom within limits and can use his environment as he sees fit to learn.  The always observant teacher will guide him and provide lessons when appropriate, using materials from the carefully prepared environment.

The multi-age classroom is very important in the Montessori Method: younger children learn from older children; older children reinforce their learning by teaching concepts they have already mastered. This arrangement also mirrors the real world, where individuals work and socialize with people of all ages and personalities.

Dr. Montessori observed that children experience sensitive periods, or windows of opportunity where learning is effortless.  Montessori teachers match appropriate lessons and materials to these sensitive periods when learning is most naturally absorbed and internalized.

Given the freedom and support to question, to probe deeply, and to make connections, Montessori students become confident, enthusiastic, self-directed learners. They are able to think critically, work collaboratively, and act boldly—a skill set for the 21st century.

(adapted from the American Montessori Society)