What is Montessori?

Montessori is a system of education named after Dr. Maria Montessori. It is both a philosophy of child growth and development and a rationale for guiding such development.

Maria Montessori was born in 1870. In 1895, she became the first woman in Italy to obtain the degree of Doctor of Medicine. This background led Dr. Montessori to approach education more from the scientific level than the accepted academic standard and the classroom became her laboratory

She observed children and was constantly testing and retesting the validity of her concepts that would contribute to a more natural growth of learning in the student. She designed materials and techniques that advanced the method of educating all children; learning disabled through gifted, far beyond previous practice. To Dr. Montessori, education was a preparation for life not merely a search for intellectual skills.

Montessori education was introduced in the United States in 1912, when one of the first schools was established by Alexander Graham Bell in his own home. In 1915, America enthusiastically welcomed Dr. Montessori to establish classrooms for the World Exhibition in San Francisco, California.

Dr. Montessori died in 1952. Today, after almost 75 years of international application, the Montessori Method thrives in the United States, with more than 3,000 schools established since 1957.

Montessori Objectives

“Help Given In Order That the Human Personality Might Achieve Its Independence”

The Montessori Method is primarily an “education for life,” a way of understanding the children’s needs as individuals and of assisting them to develop their potential to the fullest extent of capability. It is concerned with the whole person; intellect, will emotions and by allowing children to develop freely within a prepared environment, helps them to acquire control and understanding of themselves and the world around them. Needless to say, the world around children includes other human beings and so the method encourages the ability to develop comfortable and confident relationships with other children and adults. 

Specifically, the program’s goals are to provide an environment that will assist children to grow as whole and integrated persons; to bring into the program a representative cross-section of the community’s economic and cultural groups so as to enlarge the children’s social experience; and to help parents extend the Montessori environment and attitude into the home so as to facilitate and enjoy the Montessori environment as individuals who recognize the importance making available to the community a working example of an open and liberated method of learning.

A few questions answered.

WHAT IS IT? This system of education is both a philosophy of child growth and a rationale of guiding such growth. It is based on the child’s developmental needs for freedom within limits and a carefully prepared environment which guarantees exposure to materials and experiences through which to develop intelligence as well as physical and psychological abilities. It is designed to take full advantage of capabilities. The child needs adults to expose him to the possibilities of his life but the child himself must direct his response to those possibilities. 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 unusual sensitivity and mental powers for absorbing and learning from his environment that are unlike those of the adult both in quality and capacity.
The most important years of 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 profit and completion of a job, but for the sake of the activity itself. It is this activity which accomplishes for him, his most important goal; the development of himself – mental, physical, and psychological.

IS IT FOR ALL CHILDREN? The Montessori system has been used successfully with children between ages two and a half and eighteen from all socio-economic levels, representing those in regular classes as well as gifted, retarded, emotionally disturbed, and physically handicapped. Because of its individual approach, it is uniquely suited to education, where children of many backgrounds are grouped together. Because of this unique approach to education, children learn at an early age to work independently. 

IS THE CHILD FREE TO DO WHAT HE CHOOSES IN THE CLASSROOM? The child is free to move about the classroom at will, to talk to other children, to work with any equipment whose purpose he understands, or to ask the teacher to introduce new material to him. He is not free to disturb other children at work or to abuse the equipment that is so important to his development 

WHAT DOES THE DIRECTRESS DO? The Directress works with individual children, introduces materials, and gives guidance where needed. One of her primary tasks is careful observation of each child in order to determine his needs and to gain the knowledge she needs in preparing the environment to aid his growth. Her method of teaching is indirect in that she neither imposes upon the child as in direct teaching nor abandons him as a non-directive, permissive approach. Rather, she is constantly alert to the direction in which the child himself has indicated he wishes to go and she actively seeks ways to help him accomplish his goals. 

WHAT DOES IT DO FOR THE CHILD? The goals of Montessori for children are several: It encourages self-discipline, self-knowledge, and independence, as well as enthusiasm for learning, an organized approach to problem-solving, and academic skills. 

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN CHILDREN GO FROM A MONTESSORI CLASS TO A TRADITIONAL CLASS? Most children appear to adjust readily to new classroom situations. In all likelihood this is because they have developed self-discipline and independence in the Montessori environment. 

Courtesy of Paula Lillard, author of Montessori – A modern Approach

Website Links for Montessori Information

Here are some recommended research links.

These should help broaden the understanding of the Montessori method as well as introduce some of the fundamental principles.

Montessori Organizations 
American Montessori Society (AMS) 
Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) 
Montessori Foundation
North American Montessori Teachers Association (NAMTA) 
United Montessori Schools of Indiana (UMSI) Montessori Materials and Supplies 
Montessori for Everyone 
Montessori Materials 
Montessori Services 
Neinhaus Montessori Blogs and Support Sites 
American Montessori Consulting 
Montessori Mom 
Montessori Teachers Collective