The Montessori method is an educational
method for children, based on theories of child development originated
by Italian educator Maria Montessori in the late 19th and early
20th century. It is applied primarily in preschool and elementary
school settings, though some Montessori high schools exist.
The method is characterized by an emphasis
on self-directed activity on the part of the child and clinical
observation on the part of the teacher (often called a "director",
"directress", or "guide"). It stresses the importance
of adapting the child's learning environment to his or her developmental
level, and of the role of physical activity in absorbing academic
concepts and practical skills. It is also characterized by the use
of autodidactic (self-correcting) equipment to introduce various
Although there are many schools which use
the name "Montessori," the word itself is not recognized
as a trademark, nor is it associated with a single specific organization.
Dr. Maria Montessori developed what became
known as "The Montessori Method" as an outgrowth of her
post-graduate research into the intellectual development of children
with mental retardation. Building on the work of French physicians
Jean Itard and Edouard Seguin, she attempted to build an environment
for the scientific study of children with various sorts of physical
and mental disabilities. Following successes in the treatment of
these children, she began to research the application of her techniques
to the education of children of average intelligence. By 1906, Dr.
Montessori was sufficiently well-known that she was asked to run
a day-care center in the run-down San Lorenzo district of Rome.
She used the opportunity to observe the children's interactions
with materials she developed, refining them as well as developing
new materials with which the children could work. This materials-centered
approach, in which the teacher primarily observes while the children
select materials designed to impart specific concepts or skills,
is a hallmark of Montessori education. Montessori's initial work
was primarily with preschool-aged children. After observing developmental
changes occurring in children who are just beginning elementary
school, she and her son Mario began a new course of research into
adapting her approach to elementary-aged children. Toward the end
of her life, in her book From Childhood To Adolescence, Montessori
sketched out a view of how her teaching methodology might be applied
to the secondary and university levels.
The premises of a Montessori approach to
teaching and learning include the following:
- That children are capable of self-directed
- That it is critically important for
the teacher to be an "observer" of the child instead
of a lecturer. This observation of the child interacting with
his or her environment is the basis for the ongoing presentation
of new material and avenues of learning. Presentation of subsequent
exercises for skill development and information accumulation are
based on the teacher's observation that the child has mastered
the current exercise(s).
- That there are numerous "sensitive
periods" of development (periods of a few months or even
weeks), during which a child's mind is particularly open to learning
specific skills or knowledge such as crawling, sitting, walking,
talking, reading, counting, and various levels of social interaction.
These skills are learned effortlessly and joyfully. Learning one
of these skills outside of its corresponding sensitive period
is certainly possible, but always difficult and frustrating.
- That children have an "absorbent
mind" from birth to around age 6, possessing limitless motivation
to achieve competence within their environment and to perfect
skills and understandings. This phenomenon is characterized by
the young child's capacity for repetition of activities within
sensitive period categories, such as exhaustive babbling as language
practice leading to language competence.
- That children are masters of their school
room environment, which has been specifically prepared for them
to be academic, comfortable, and to encourage independence by
giving them the tools and responsibility to manage its upkeep.
- That children learn through discovery,
so didactic materials with a control for error are used. Through
the use of these materials (specifically designed toys, blocks,
sets of letters, science experiments, etc.) children learn to
instinctually correct their own mistakes instead of rely on a
teacher to give them the correct answer.
- That children most often learn alone
during periods of intense concentration. During these self-chosen
and spontaneous periods, the child is not to be interrupted by
- That the hand is intimately connected
to the developing brain in children. Children must actually touch
the shapes, letters, temperatures, etc. that they are learning
about - not just watch a teacher or TV screen tell them about