Montessori Education: History and Philosophy

Dr. Maria Montessori, engineer, physician, and educator, developed a new way of teaching young children by observing their behaviors, at the early part of the 20th century. Through much trial and error and continuous and meticulous observations, she developed materials and a sequence of lessons in order to help students develop the whole child physically, cognitively, socially, emotionally and spiritually. Montessori teachers know they cannot only teach to one of these components, as they are all interdependent.

The methodology is based on a deep respect for the child who in turn, shows respect for himself, others, and his environment. We honor where the child is and help them get to the next step. We form bonds first with the children by smiling, inviting and encouraging. Once the environment of trust and respect is established the student earns greater freedom.

Montessori Principles

Freedom comes with responsibility. Students in an authentic Montessori classroom are given the independence to choose their own work, and are allowed to practice for as long as they like. However, there are inherently certain limits in the classroom.

  • The materials must be treated with care and respect.
  • The student must return any materials to complete the work to their proper place before completely putting it way so it can be ready for the next person.

For example, if the student wishes to paint, the easel must be available or he may need to wait. When it is ready, he puts on his apron, gathers the paper, paint and brush, obtains a cup of water for rinsing his brush and sets out to paint. When finished with the activity, he will wash the brush and cup of water and he will place his art in the proper place to dry. He will clean up any paint drippings or spills and finally, return his apron to be cleaned and put in its proper place.

Montessori classrooms are multi-age usually spanning 3 years. Not only is the classroom multi-age, but the student spends 3 years in the same classroom with the same teacher. The benefits for this are:

  • Younger children learn by observing and interacting with older children
  • Older children get the opportunity to give lessons to younger students
  • Eliminates comparing one child to another child
  • Promotes natural socialization and learning to get along with people of all ages
  • Younger students receive the message it is OK to ask for help
  • Experienced students develop confidence when giving help

The combination of all these aspects results in enhancing the child’s natural love of learning. Current research shows that children learn more when they are given choices regarding their own education. In addition, by consistently asking the students open-ended questions, we develop their critical thinking skills and offer them guidance which fosters a love of learning within the child.

Montessori Today

There are over 5000 Montessori schools in North America. This number continues to increase in both the private and public sectors. Research continues to grow in support of this pedagogy.