Montessori education is a child-centered method of teaching based on the belief that children can learn through their own experience and at their own pace. This teaching model regards the child as the determining force in their own education, encouraging independence and hands-on learning. Children are grouped together by age ranges rather than by grade level, with the teacher facilitating exploration and collaboration.
The Montessori classroom is set up with various work or activity stations, and children are encouraged to move through each “task” at their own pace. The teacher moves from station to station, providing guidance instead of instructing at the front of the classroom. Assessment is nontraditional, focusing more on the social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development of the child as a whole versus a standardized grade. The most long-lasting result of the Montessori environment can be found far into adulthood: a recent study revealed that adults who spent at least two years in a Montessori environment as a child reported a higher sense of well-being as an adult.
The Montessori method was created by Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952), an Italian physician and anthropologist, and one of the first women in Italy to earn a medical degree. Dr. Montessori dedicated her life to understanding child development. In her observations of children and their responses to the environment, she determined that children exceeded expectations when given the tools to be independent, self-guided learners. She also insisted that children have a natural curiosity and love of work, if encouraged properly.
Over the course of many years, Dr. Montessori developed the various structures and concepts found in today’s Montessori classroom, and in order to ensure that the quality of her methods remained intact, she founded the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) in 1929, which continues to provide teacher training today.
For many parents, deciding on a preschool sets the foundation for how their child will learn for years to come. The Montessori preschool setting is quite different from the traditional setting. To start, most traditional preschools focus on play and socialization. In a Montessori preschool, a child’s interactions are considered as “work” and part of the building blocks for later learning. The traditional preschool considers the teacher as the main source of instruction, while the Montessori preschool allows the child to guide their instruction with the teacher observing and assisting as needed. As a result of this structure, all children in the traditional setting learn the same things in the same ways and are expected to meet the same benchmarks. In contrast, the Montessori setting promotes individualized learning, with less structure and more child-led assessment. For many parents, especially with children that have special needs, the Montessori preschool nurtures their child’s holistic development at a natural pace rather than in a standardized setting.
There are numerous benefits to learning in a Montessori setting. Most notably:
- Prepared Environment: For Montessori educators, the success of the Montessori method is highly dependent on the environment. Dr. Montessori outlined six key principles for creating a prepared environment: freedom, structure and order, beauty, nature and reality, social environment, and an intellectual environment. Each principle is focused on maximizing learning and growth for the child.
- Hands-on Learning: Dr. Montessori’s philosophy of “follow the child” is a guiding thought in Montessori learning. Children are seen as capable individuals, and the lessons or materials they are attracted to reflect their interests and abilities. Most Montessori classrooms are one-part playroom and one-part workshop, filled with sensory-based materials to develop concentration and coordination.
- Imagination: The most notable benefit of Montessori education is that children become curious, imaginative learners. Often, the teacher models intrinsic motivation by asking children questions and praising their efforts rather than the accomplishment of a task. In response, children learn to think creatively and approach new obstacles with confidence and curiosity.
- Independence: From day one, even the youngest children are encouraged to work independently to solve problems. If accidents arise, the teacher addresses them and shows the child how to correct the circumstance. Children learn to ask for help when needed but quickly learn that they are capable of more than they thought. As a result, children gain a sense of independence and confidence in their abilities much more quickly than they would in a traditional school setting.
Rather than separate children into different classes by age or grade level, the Montessori environment focuses on mixed-age and mixed-grade grouping. This philosophy allows a child autonomy and fluidity in their development. Typically, the different groupings in Montessori are:
- Infant and toddler (0 to 3 years): Focuses on providing a nurturing, safe environment for the child to begin to explore, trust, and develop independence.
- Primary (3 to 6 years): Focuses on fostering independence, self-regulation, clear communication, sensory perception, and the development of literacy and mathematical understanding.
- Elementary (Lower, 6 to 9 years and Upper, 9 to 12 years): Focuses on collaborative exploration and supporting the development of self-confidence, imagination, intellectual independence, self-efficacy, and community involvement.
- Adolescence (12 to 15 years): Focuses on understanding oneself in a broader frame of reference, providing context for practical application of academics, and supporting the development of self-expression, self-reliance, and interpersonal relationships.
Montessori learning allows children to progress at their own pace, and when a child is ready for the next step or level, the teacher guides them regardless of age. In this way, a child’s developmental needs are met with intention and consistency.
If you’re the type of educator who highly values a child’s holistic development and respects their innate desire and ability to learn, then Montessori might be the perfect method for you. Whether you’re interested in early childhood education or non-licensure educational studies, like instructional design, the Montessori method develops educators who are patient, observant, and creative in how they guide their students. Additionally, Montessori teachers are highly specialized in developmental psychology and education.
To become a Montessori teacher, you first want to earn a bachelor’s degree in education or a similar field. The next step is to find an accredited Montessori training center via the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (MACTE) website. There are several levels of certification, and you’ll want to determine which certification is right for your career path. Upon enrollment, you can expect to complete your training program in one to two years.
With an appreciation for their child as the guide to their own development, parents can see the positive effects of Montessori learning at home as well, making it a popular alternative to homeschooling. For example, dinner time can be a struggle for many parents with toddlers, especially when using the traditional philosophy of “you must clear your plate to finish dinner.” This perspective creates many arguments at the table and reinforces that the child cannot make decisions for themselves or know their own body’s limitations. In contrast, the Montessori perspective is that the child has the ability to choose how much food they need and encourages them to consider the cues (feeling hungry or feeling full) their body gives them when eating. Parents who implement a Montessori philosophy at dinnertime often start with smaller portions and allow the child to determine for themselves if they want more food. They also ask questions, just as the teacher does in the classroom, to encourage active thinking when making nutrition decisions. Overall, many parents reflect that in a Montessori environment, children gain more confidence in mathematics and reading, and demonstrate a greater sense of conflict resolution and emotional intelligence.
As with any alternative method or philosophy, myths can arise. Here are a few common myths about Montessori education debunked:
- Myth: Montessori teachers don’t teach. Fact: Montessori teachers are highly trained educators who serve as guides and facilitators for a child’s independence.
- Myth: Montessori is religious. Fact: Montessori is secular in its methodologies but does encourage exploration and respect for all spiritual practices.
- Myth: Montessori is only for gifted children. Fact: Dr. Montessori developed her methods while working with children with disabilities and firmly believed that all children have the ability to learn and excel.
- Myth: Montessori curriculum isn’t rigorous enough. Fact: Montessori curriculum is a cross-curriculum approach, allowing children to learn multiple subjects at once, at a deeper level than traditional learning approaches.
Dr. Montessori once said, “My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams and processing on that certification … but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher one, by means of their own activity through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual.” Traditional learning places great value on standardized tests and benchmarks, while the Montessori classroom provides a place for growth and development by valuing the child as an evolving individual capable of determining their own abilities and interests.