How Montessori Works

Dr. Maria Montessori based her method of teaching children on several concepts.  All of these concepts are used in varying degrees by different Montessori practitioners.

  • Inner guidance. All children have inherent inner directives from nature that guide their development.
  • Freedom of self-directed learning. The Montessori method allows children to choose their own activities,  which lets children experience self-directed learning.
  • Prepared Environment. The right conditions around children support their natural development. The environment is arranged according to a subject area, and children are free to move around the room instead of staying at desks. There is no limit to how long a child can work with a piece of material. At any one time in a day all subjects — math, language, science, history, geography, art, music, etc., will be being studied, at all levels.
  • Observation and indirect teaching. This teaching style consists of observing the child engaging in activities that follow their natural instincts. Controlling the environment, not the child, contrasts sharply with the ordinary teacher’s role in implementing a pre-determined curriculum. At Battle Creek Montessori, teachers are striking a balance of following the child’s readiness and interests while also following the state curriculum guidelines.
  • Absorbent mind. The young child (0–6) has an absorbent mind which naturally incorporates experiences in the environment directly into their whole basic character and personality for life. This is unique to young children and allows them to learn many concepts easily. After the age of about six, this absorbent mental faculty disappears. The child then enters the 6-12-year-old period where exploration of the world around them and use of imagination are key.
  • Multi-age grouping. Children learn from each other in a way that supports their independent self-directed activity. There is constant interaction, problem-solving, child to child teaching, and socialization. Children are challenged according to their ability and never bored.

Proven Results

Scientific research has shown that:

  • Cognition is optimized when movement is consistent with thinking.
  • We learn best when we are interested in what we are learning about.
  • Extrinsic rewards reduce motivation and level of performance once the rewards are removed.
  • People thrive when they feel a sense of choice and control.
  • We learn best when our learning is situated in meaningful contexts.
  • Children can learn very well from and with peers; after age six children respond well to collaborative learning situations.
  • Children thrive on order, routine, and ritual.

*Angeline Stoll Lillard’s, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius.

Montessori vs. Traditional

Montessori Education

Traditional Education

View the child holistically, valuing cognitive, psychological, social, and spiritual development
Views the child in terms of competence, skill level, and achievement with an emphasis on core curricula standards and social development
Child is an active participant in learning – allowed to move about and respectfully explore the classroom environment
Child is a more passive participant in learning
Teacher is an instructional facilitator and guide
Teacher has a more dominant, central role in classroom activity
A carefully prepared learning environment and method encourages development of internal self-discipline and intrinsic motivation
Teacher acts as a primary enforcer of external discipline promoting extrinsic motivation
Instruction, both individual and group, adapts to students’ learning styles and development levels
Instruction, both individual and group, adapts to core curricula benchmarks
Three-year span of age grouping
Same-age and/or skill level grouping
Grace, courtesy, and conflict resolution are an integral part of daily Montessori peace curriculum
Conflict resolution is usually taught separately from daily classroom activity
Values concentration and depth of experience; supplies uninterrupted time for focused work cycle to develop
Values completion of assignments; time is tightly scheduled
Child’s learning pace is internally determined
Instructional pace usually set by core-curricula standard expectations, group norm, or teacher
Child allowed to spot own errors through feedback from the materials; errors are viewed as part of learning process
Work is usually corrected by the teacher; errors are viewed as mistakes
Learning is reinforced internally through the child’s own repetition of an activity and internal feelings of success
Learning is reinforced externally by test scores and rewards, competition and grades
Care of self and environment are emphasized as integral to the learning experience
Less emphasis on self-care, spatial awareness, and care of environment
Child can work where he/she is comfortable and the child often has choices between working alone or with a group
Child is usually assigned a specific workspace; talking among peers discouraged
Multi-disciplinary, interwoven curriculum
Curriculum areas usually taught as separate topics
Progress is reported through multiple formats: conferences, narrative reports, checklists and portfolio of student’s work
Progress is usually reported through conferences, report cards/grades, and test scores
Children are encouraged to teach, collaborate, and help each other
Most teaching is done by the teacher and collaboration is an alternative teaching strategy
Child is provided opportunities to choose own work from interest and abilities, concepts taught within context of interest
Curricula organized and structured for child based on core curricula standards
Goal is to foster a love of learning
Goal is to master curricula objectives

Maria Montessori

Maria MontessoriMaria Montessori was born August 31, 1870, in Chiaravalle, Italy.  Dr. Montessori was the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome La Sapienza Medical School, and the first female doctor in Italy.  As a member of the University’s Psychiatric Clinic, she became interested in educating children with special needs and learning disabilities.  In 1896 Dr. Montessori was appointed the head of an institution in Italy that was devoted to the care and education of mentally handicapped children. This success prompted Dr. Montessori to look into the effects of her teaching philosophy on children without disabilities.

Dr. Montessori then started a school in Rome, which opened in 1907.  This school was called “Casa dei Bambini” or “Children’s House”.  At this school, she focused on teaching children ways to develop their own skills at a pace they set for themselves.  This is a Montessori principle known as “spontaneous self-development”.  The success of this school prompted the opening of many more like it around the world and sparked an interest in the Montessori method of education.

In the 1920’s, Mussolini exiled Dr. Montessori from Italy because she refused to compromise her principles and make children into soldiers.  She lived in Spain until the Spanish Civil War in 1936, at which time she moved to the Netherlands.  In 1939 she was invited to visit India, where she worked with her son, Mario Montessori, to lay a strong foundation for the Montessori Movement in India.  In 1949 she left India and returned to the Netherlands where she stayed until her death on May 6, 1952.