What is Montessori education? For more than a century now, the child-focused approach that Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, developed for educating children has been transforming schools around the globe. As soon as you enter a classroom, you know that something different is afoot. Montessori classrooms are immediately recognizable. You will see children working independently and in groups, often with specially designed learning materials; deeply engaged in their work; and respectful of themselves and their surroundings. The Montessori Method fosters rigorous, self-motivated growth for children and adolescents in all areas of their development—cognitive, emotional, social, and physical.
Montessori education is student-led and self-paced but guided, assessed, and enriched by knowledgeable and caring teachers, the leadership of their peers, and a nurturing environment.
Within the community of a multi-age classroom—designed to create natural opportunities for independence, citizenship, and accountability—children embrace multi-sensory learning and passionate inquiry. Individual students follow their own curiosity at their own pace, taking the time they need to fully understand each concept and meet individualized learning goals.
The Pre-Primary classroom environment (18 months – 3 years)
A Montessori environment for very young children gives your toddler the freedom to safely explore and learn through discovery. The setting is calm, inviting, and homelike, with soft rugs, a rocking chair, books arrayed on low shelves, and toys in baskets. Colors are muted, the atmosphere peaceful. The space is organized, clean, and uncluttered.
The classroom is a community in which respect for the independence and character of your child is paramount. Teachers are consistently calm, gentle, soft-spoken, patient, and trusting. They demonstrate respect and compassion by using eye contact, kneeling to the level of the child, addressing your children by name, and speaking before touching or moving them. The result is a calm, soothing atmosphere in which consistent caregivers create an emotional safe haven for those in their care.
Learning materials are easily accessible. These materials are designed to foster concentration, problem-solving, and a sense of achievement. Children select the material that interests them, use it for as long as they would like, clean it up (with assistance when needed), and make another choice.
Equipment that supports gross and fine motor skills, such as low ladders with railings for children who are just learning to walk, are available for toddlers to try. Child-sized furniture, utensils, and other tools enable children to make independent choices and complete activities, which builds self-confidence, concentration, and critical thinking skills.
The Primary classroom environment (3 – 6 years)
In a Montessori Early Childhood classroom, highly trained teachers create a customized environment crafted to her unique abilities, interests, and learning style.
This approach to learning is “hands-on.” Dr. Maria Montessori believed (and modern science has affirmed) that moving and learning are inseparable. In the prepared classroom, children work with specially designed manipulative materials that invite exploration and engage the senses in the process of learning. All learning activities support children in choosing meaningful and challenging work at their own interest and ability level. This child-directed engagement strengthens motivation, supports attention, and encourages responsibility.
The Early Childhood classroom offers your child 5 areas of study: Practical Life, Sensorial, Math, Language, and Cultural Studies. Uninterrupted blocks of work time (typically 2+ hours in length) allow children to work at their own pace and fully immerse themselves in an activity without interruption. Your child’s work cycle involves selecting an activity, performing it for as long it remains interesting, cleaning up the activity and returning it to the shelf, and making another work choice. This cycle respects individual variations in the learning process, facilitates the development of coordination, concentration, independence, and a sense of order while facilitating your child’s assimilation of information.
The Primary curriculum follows a 3-year sequence. Because the teacher guides your child through learning at her own pace, her individualized learning plan may exceed the concepts she would be taught in a classroom environment in which all children learn the same concept at the same time. As children move forward, they develop the ability to concentrate and make decisions, along with developing self-control, courtesy, and a sense of community responsibility.
The Primary Classroom: Kindergarten year
Kindergarten is the culmination of the Early Childhood program. The third-year students get their turn and take pride in being the oldest. They serve as role models for younger students; they demonstrate leadership and citizenship skills. They reinforce and consolidate their own learning by teaching concepts they have already mastered to their peers. In their Kindergarten year, they express confidence, develop self-esteem and self-sufficiency, and show responsibility.
Kindergarteners are introduced to progressively more advanced Montessori materials and sophisticated, fascinating lessons. And they experience an important period in which their previous learning from working with concrete Montessori materials begins to become permanent knowledge. A Montessori Kindergarten student sees and feels their personal growth as they watch others learn the information they have mastered themselves.
Children exhibit the independence, critical thinking, collaboration, and leadership that they have been practicing during their previous years in the Early Childhood classroom, exercising them independently as they prepare to transition into an Elementary program.
The Elementary Program (Lower Elementary: ages 6-9, Upper Elementary: ages 9-12)
What sets Montessori apart in the Elementary years—ages 6 – 12—is the individually paced curriculum that challenges children academically and safeguards their well-being and sense of self. Engaging as contributing members of a respectful community, they learn to question, think critically, and take responsibility for their own learning—skills that will support them in later education and in life. This multi-age community provides opportunities for all individuals to learn from each other, at times leading, sharing, or serving as role models. It also develops an appreciation of differences.
As at all Montessori levels, the Elementary program is based on the belief that children learn best through movement and work with their hands, and provides cognitive, social, and emotional support to help them reach their full potential.
This includes addressing their needs as they enter a new period of development characterized by:
A transition from concrete to abstract thinking
Growing interest in socialization
Thinking and memory that is enhanced by creativity and imagination
An interest in fairness, social justice, and compassion
The Elementary classroom is a happy community. Students are focused. They take joy in their work. They invent, explore, experiment, confer, create, prepare snacks, and curl up with books; sometimes they might even reflect in a peaceful, meditative corner. Meanwhile, teachers observe the students, making notes about their progress, ever ready to offer support, or introduce new material, as appropriate. Teachers guide children through a rigorous curriculum individually tailored to their own interests, needs, and abilities. Teachers monitor progress against established benchmarks and expectations for student learning, including academic preparedness, independence, confidence, autonomy, intrinsic motivation, social responsibility, and global citizenship.
The Montessori Elementary curriculum contains the following areas of learning:
Within the Elementary program, the Practical Life curriculum expands from the foundation laid in Early Childhood. Practical Life at the Elementary level shifts from a focus on self-care and fine motor skills, to skills that help children connect with their interests in the outside world, organize their time, and take part in their community.
While self-care and appropriate social interactions continue to be supported, lessons that teach responsibility are the focus. Use of tools, such as work plans, to support organization and time management skills, are incorporated into the daily routine.
Teachers and students often work together to post reminders about assignments, projects, and ideas. Using these, children make independent work choices, prioritize activities, and meet deadlines.
The ideas of number concepts, place value, numerals, and related quantities are reinforced and expanded upon within the Elementary program. Newfound purposes for familiar math materials provide children with the means to consider number concepts, mathematical operations, and more complex functions, helping to expand advanced mathematical knowledge and understanding.
Reading and writing are integral to all subjects in Montessori Elementary, as children express their interests and satisfy their curiosity. Students master conventions with thorough studies of grammar, spelling, and mechanics. They produce final copies with careful penmanship and keyboarding. They read, analyze, think critically, and compare and contrast literature to support personal opinion and perspective. Using these reading and writing skills, they present ideas through formal and informal presentations.
Cultural studies are interdisciplinary and integrate zoology, botany, anthropology, geography, geology, physical and life sciences, and anthropology. Through these lessons, children explore the interconnectedness of all living things. Additionally, in-depth studies of history, physical and political world geography, civics, economics, peace and justice, the arts, world language, and physical education are introduced.
Science and Social Studies
Interdisciplinary and integrated studies of geology, geography, physical and life sciences, anthropology, and history are built around “Great Lessons,” a series of dramatic stories that explore the origins of the universe, our planet, and the continuous development of human advancement. The laws of physics and chemistry reveal the interdependency of all living things. Beginning with a study of civilization, students explore the contributions of history and what it means to be a responsible citizen and to seek ways to make the world a better, more peaceful place.
Given the freedom and support to question, probe deeply, and make connections, Montessori students grow up to be confident, enthusiastic, and self-directed learners and citizens, accountable to both themselves and their community. They think critically, work collaboratively, and act boldly and with integrity. What better outcome could you wish for your children?
Text Source: American Montessori Society