Dr. Maria Montessori, Italy’s first woman to graduate in medicine, originated The Montessori Philosophy. Dr. Montessori believed that children learned best by doing, not by passively accepting the ideas and preexisting knowledge of others. The Montessori method requires the active personal pursuit of many different experiences: physical, social, emotional and cognitive. Dr. Montessori designed specialized instructional materials that the children could use to learn specific skills.

 “If we could say, “We are respectful and courteous in our dealing with children, we treat them as we should like to be treated ourselves,” we should have mastered a great educational principle and be setting an example of good education.”

– Maria Montessori

A Montessori environment is carefully prepared so that the children can move independently from one area to another. Each room has a Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics, Cultural and Art area. Freedom, independence, social development and academic learning are all important facets of the Montessori method. Maria Montessori’s vision of world peace began with recognizing, and respecting the importance of, the small child’s contribution to the world.

What is a Montessori Classroom Like?

Nicky Macdonald, one of West Mont Montessori School’s teacher trainers, instructs new teachers on the Montessori Method.  Below, Nicky provides a personal account of what a Montessori classroom is like:

After more than 14 years as a Montessori pre-school teacher, I am still constantly amazed and delighted by the never-ending diversity of children that I meet.  It always feels like such a privilege to be able to spend my time getting to know these children, discovering their unique personalities and individual challenges.  What is perhaps equally amazing is that I have yet to meet a child who, when treated with patience, love and respect, within the freedom of the prepared Montessori classroom, has not grown and blossomed as they have been able to learn and develop in their own particular way, moving towards the fulfilment of their potential within the supportive Montessori environment.

The first time I spent a morning in a Montessori classroom, I was struck by the sense of peace and calm that I experienced and by how independent the young children seemed.  They moved around the room in control of their actions, choosing their own work, tidying up, offering help to their friends, preparing their own snack, changing their own clothes and carrying out all of this without the apparent direction of their teacher.  For large parts of the morning, I was hardly aware of the teacher being in the room as she worked intently with one child or another, while all around her was a busy hum of activity as the other children moved from one independently chosen task to another.

I have found this feeling of calm, busy energy in each of the Montessori classes that I have worked in, and I have come to realize that it is the freedom that the child experiences that makes it this way: freedom of movement, freedom to choose their own activities, and freedom to engage in these activities for as long as they want, within the order of a well prepared and interesting environment.  These conditions allow the child, no matter what their particular personality, challenges, or background, to find peace and happiness.  It is from this place of well-being and contentment that their desire to learn develops naturally and spontaneously.

Montessori schools are often called the “Children’s House” because everything in them is designed to allow the child to become physically independent.  The materials are child sized and the equipment is laid out in an orderly fashion on low shelves that are easily accessible for the children. The equipment is beautiful and well cared for, which encourages the children to take care of it too. Children between the ages of approximately two-and-a-half and six years are grouped together in their own mini society. The youngest learn from watching the older children, and the older ones benefit by helping those younger than they. The mixed age group allows the children to naturally develop socially, intellectually and emotionally.

In a Montessori school, children choose their activities independently and move freely from one activity to the next – always returning things to the shelf after they have used them. In an atmosphere of calm, young children concentrate for surprisingly long periods of time, working individually, in a group or with a friend. Ideally the morning or afternoon session lasts for a minimum of three hours; three hours in which there is no particular timetable, where the children are not only free to choose the activities they wish to work with, but are also free to work with them for as long as they wish. Groups can then arise spontaneously according to the interests of the children. Maria Montessori observed that this extended period of time was essential for the children to develop their ability to concentrate.

Maria Montessori based her system of education upon her careful observations of children.  She saw that children “built themselves” based upon their interactions with what they found in their environment, and that it was by being able to work with real objects that they had freely chosen, and by being respected as individuals, that they could teach and develop themselves.  Freedom within a structured environment enables a child to work at creating the person he/she will become.  A Montessori classroom provides freedom whilst maintaining an environment that encourages a sense of order and self-discipline.

Comparison of Montessori and Traditional Instruction

Montessori Method: Traditional Method:
1. Emphasis is on cognitive and social development 1. Emphasis is on social development
2. Teacher has unobtrusive role in classroom 2. Teacher is center of classroom as “controller”
3. Environment and method encourage self-discipline 3. Teacher is primary enforcer of discipline
4. Mainly individual instruction 4. Group and individual instruction
5. Mixed age grouping 5. Same age grouping
6. Grouping encourages children to teach and help each other 6. Most teaching is done by the teacher
7. Child chooses own work 7. Curriculum is structured for the child
8. Child discovers own concepts from self-teaching materials 8. Child is guided to concepts by the teacher
9. Child works as long as he wishes on chosen project 9. Child is generally allotted specific time for work
10. Child sets own learning pace 10. Instruction pace is usually set by group norm
11. Child spots own errors from feedback of material 11. If work is corrected, errors usually are pointed out by the teacher
12. Child reinforces own learning by repetition of work and internal feelings of success 12. Learning is reinforced externally by repetition and rewards
13. Multi-sensory materials for physical exploration 13. Fewer materials for sensory development
14. Organized program for learning care of self and environment 14. Less emphasis of self-care instruction
15. Child can work where he chooses, move around and talk at will (yet not disturb the work of others); group work is voluntary 15. Child usually assigned own chair; encouraged to participate, sit still and listen during group sessions
16. Organized program for parents to understand the Montessori philosophy and participate in the learning process 16. Voluntary parent involvement