What Are Montessori Schools? (7 Fundamentals of Montessori)

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What Are Montessori Schools

You may be familiar with the growing buzz surrounding Montessori education, an educational philosophy that has gained significant recognition in recent decades. 

The surging popularity of Montessori education can be attributed to several key factors, including the hands-on nature of Montessori classrooms, the student-led approach to learning, the utilization of real-world materials, and the distinct teaching style that encourages student independence.

Today, Montessori schools have a global presence, exceeding 20,000 in number, with an impressive 3,000 establishments solely in the United States. Out of the 5,000 total Montessori schools, 500 are public, while the remaining 4,500 are privately operated (AMS).

But what are Montessori schools? Montessori schools are educational institutions that follow the teaching philosophy and approach developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, and educator. The Montessori method is based on the belief that children are naturally curious and possess an innate desire to learn and explore their environment. Montessori schools aim to cultivate independence, and self-discipline, and nurture a love for learning in students.

In this article, we will delve into the fundamentals of Montessori education and explore how Montessori schools operate. 

We will also provide insights into the various curriculum areas emphasized in Montessori education.

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    History Of Montessori Schools

    The Montessori approach of teaching has a rich history dating back to 1907 when Dr. Maria Montessori, the founder of this approach, opened the first Montessori school in Rome, specifically catering to underprivileged students. 

    Since then, the influence and impact of Montessori education have only continued to expand and evolve.

    After completing her medical training, Dr. Montessori embarked on the development of her educational philosophy and methods in 1897. 

    She pursued courses in pedagogy at the University of Rome and immersed herself in the study of educational theory. 

    It was during her studies that Montessori had the opportunity to visit mental asylums in Rome alongside a teacher. 

    This experience provided her with crucial insights as she observed that confined children lacked sufficient stimulation from their environment. Dr. Montessori believed that children learn best when they direct their own learning process.

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    In 1907, Montessori took a significant step forward by establishing her inaugural classroom, known as the Casa dei Bambini in Rome. It is composed of Montessori classrooms for children where students can learn from one another and by themselves through child-led activities.

    From the very beginning, Montessori grounded her work in direct observations of children and conducted experiments with the environment, materials, and lessons available to them. 

    She referred to her approach as “scientific pedagogy,” reflecting her commitment to evidence-based practices.

    By 1912, Montessori education had made its way to the United States and gained significant recognition through educational and popular publications. 

    In 1913, Narcissa Cox Vanderlip and Frank A. Vanderlip established the Scarborough School, marking the first Montessori school in the country. 

    However, conflicts soon arose between Montessori and the American educational establishment.

    In 1914, influential education teacher William Heard Kilpatrick published a critical booklet titled “The Montessori System Examined.” This publication limited the spread of Montessori’s ideas, and they experienced a decline after 1914. 

    It was not until 1960 that the Montessori program reemerged in the United States and began proliferating in numerous schools across the country. 

    Throughout her lifetime, Montessori continued to expand her work, developing a comprehensive model of psychological development from birth to age 24 and refining educational approaches for children in different age ranges, including 0 to 3, 3 to 6, and 6 to 12.

    Montessori education also gained popularity on a global scale, extending its reach to Southeast Asia and India. 

    During World War II, Montessori herself was interned in India, where the principles of Montessori education took root. 

    In October 1931, Mahatma Gandhi, the prominent Indian independence leader, met with Dr. Montessori in London. Gandhi expressed keen interest in the Montessori method and its potential contribution to nation-building efforts. 

    Over time, elite private Montessori institutions emerged, and in the 1950s, some Montessori schools began catering to children from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds—a trend that persists today with the establishment of the foundation and government-funded Montessori institutions.

    What Are Montessori Schools? (7 Fundamentals of A Montessori Classroom)

    Montessori institutions are educational institutions that follow the teaching philosophy and approach developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, and educator. 

    The Montessori method is based on the belief that children are naturally curious and possess an innate desire to learn and explore their environment. 

    This education program aims to cultivate independence, self-discipline, and a love for learning in students.

    The following are the 7 fundamentals of Montessori education:

    1. Prepared Environment

    Montessori classrooms are carefully designed to provide a prepared environment that encourages individualized exploration and learning.

    Instead of desks like traditional education, Montessori classrooms have stations where children can develop a skill or work that they are interested in.

    Specially designed learning materials are present in the classrooms and are typically filled with age-appropriate materials and activities that cater to children’s individual interests and developmental needs.

    1. Mixed-Age Classrooms

    Montessori classrooms often have a multi-age grouping, where children of different ages learn together. This setup allows younger children to learn from older students and older children to reinforce their learning by helping younger ones.

    1. Hands-On Learning

    Montessori education emphasizes hands-on, experiential learning.

    Students are encouraged to use manipulative materials and engage in practical activities that promote sensory exploration, problem-solving, and critical thinking to enhance a kid’s natural thirst for learning.

    1. Child-Centered Approach

    The Montessori method places a strong emphasis on following the toddler’s interests and respecting their individual pace of learning. Teachers act as guides, observing and supporting each kid’s unique learning journey.

    The approach involves a lot of natural learning and the development of independence.

    1. Self-Directed Learning

    The Montessori curriculum nurtures self-directed learning, where children are given freedom within limits to choose their activities and work independently. 

    They learn to take responsibility for their learning and develop self-discipline and intrinsic motivation.

    1. Focus on Holistic Development

    Montessori students are holistically honed, encompassing not just academic skills but also social, emotional, and physical development. 

    The curriculum often includes activities that promote practical life skills, cultural awareness, and respect for oneself and others.

    1. Parent Involvement

    Private and public Montessori institutions value strong partnerships between teachers and parents. 

    Parents are encouraged to actively participate in their toddler’s education, observe their progress, and collaborate with teachers to support their kid’s development.

    Types of Montessori Schools

    Montessori schools can be categorized as independent, private, public, or charter institutions. 

    However, a key distinction lies in the fact that public and charter Montessori institutions are required to adhere to state and district regulations and policies. 

    This implies that these schools must align their practices with mandates such as student testing, provision of special education services, learning materials, and academic support, as determined by their respective districts and states. 

    In contrast, independent and private Montessori educators have more autonomy in setting their own policies and practices.

    What Is The Montessori Method Of Education

    The Montessori is an education approach that focuses on a kid’s natural desire and activities rather than traditional teaching methods. 

    In a Montessori classroom, the emphasis is placed on hands-on learning and the development of practical skills that can be applied in the real world. 

    The method recognizes children as inherently curious and capable of initiating their own learning in an environment that is supportive and well-prepared. 

    It diverges from conventional measures of achievement, such as grades and tests.

    Developed by Italian physician, Dr. Maria Montessori, she formulated her theories through scientific experimentation with her students. Montessori observed that students in Montessori institutions learn best when they are allowed to direct their own learning. Since then, the method has been widely adopted in both public and private schools across the globe. 

    While the term “Montessori” is not trademarked, there are various practices associated with it. 

    These include mixed-age classrooms, student freedom in choosing their activities, extended periods of uninterrupted work time, specially trained teachers, and a carefully prepared learning environment. 

    Scientific studies on the outcomes of the Montessori method have generally yielded positive results, with a 2017 review noting the existence of “broad evidence” supporting its effectiveness.

    How Montessori Education Teach Children

    The education philosophy employed by Montessori institutions in instructing groups of children revolves around several key principles. 

    Concrete to Abstract

    The Montessori follows the principle of moving from concrete to abstract in order to help children grasp complex concepts. 

    This means that children first learn and understand concepts in a tangible and hands-on manner before transitioning to a more abstract understanding. 

    For instance, when introducing the decimal system, Montessori utilizes golden beads grouped into 10s, 100s, and 1,000s. 

    By working with these physical representations, children develop a solid foundation and gradually progress to comprehending the numerical concepts in a more conceptual and abstract manner.

    Control of Error

    Montessori materials are thoughtfully crafted to provide children with feedback on their progress, enabling them to independently identify and rectify their errors. 

    These materials are designed in a way that allows children to receive immediate and tangible feedback, helping them develop a sense of self-correction. 

    By engaging with the materials, children can recognize their mistakes and make adjustments without constant intervention from teachers or adults. 

    This approach promotes independent learning, critical thinking, and the development of problem-solving skills in Montessori classrooms.

    Cosmic Education

    In Montessori, the focus is on helping each child discover their unique “cosmic task” or purpose in the world. 

    This involves providing elementary school children with comprehensive lessons in various subjects, such as astronomy, chemistry, biology, geography, and history. 

    By exploring these diverse fields of knowledge, children are encouraged to form their own vision of the universe and understand their place and purpose within it. 

    The aim is to develop a deep sense of curiosity, self-awareness, and interconnectedness with the world around them, guiding them on a path of self-discovery and fulfillment.


    Within the Montessori approach, teachers take on the role of guides. 

    They carefully observe each student, considering their individual readiness and interests, and respond by offering appropriate guidance and direction. 

    Rather than imposing a fixed curriculum or predetermined lessons, Montessori teachers adapt their approach to meet the specific needs of each child. 

    By closely observing and understanding the unique learning journey of every student, these guides provide the necessary support and recommend suitable lessons that align with the child’s developmental stage and personal interests.


    Erdkinder, a term derived from the German language meaning “child of the earth,” refers to the Montessori educational environment designed for adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15. 

    This specialized setting aims to nurture a deep connection between students and the natural world while engaging them in meaningful, hands-on activities. 

    Erdkinder provides opportunities for adolescents to explore and engage in practical work that is relevant to their development and interests. 

    By immersing themselves in real-world experiences and connecting with nature, adolescents in the Erdkinder environment develop a sense of responsibility, independence, and a holistic understanding of their place within the world.

    Freedom Within Limits

    In Montessori classrooms, the environment is intentionally structured to promote children’s freedom of movement and the ability to independently select their activities. 

    However, this freedom is balanced by the expectation of appropriate behavior and respect for others and the environment. 

    The design of Montessori classrooms establishes boundaries that guide children in making choices while fostering a sense of responsibility and consideration for their peers and surroundings. 

    Within these limits, children are encouraged to explore, engage in self-directed learning, and take ownership of their educational journey, all while developing an understanding of personal boundaries and the importance of respecting others and their environment.

    Grace and Courtesy

    Grace and courtesy in a Montessori setting encompass the teachings and cultivation of good manners and social skills among students. 

    It involves instructing children on various aspects of polite behavior, such as welcoming and greeting guests, interrupting adults in a respectful manner, and making requests with consideration rather than demand. 

    By emphasizing grace and courtesy, Montessori aims to foster a positive and harmonious social environment where students learn to interact with kindness, empathy, and respect for others.


    Normalization is a natural developmental process that can be observed in children who exhibit a genuine love for work, a deep level of concentration, self-discipline, and a sense of joy and satisfaction in their achievements. 

    This phenomenon occurs when children are provided with uninterrupted blocks of time to engage in activities of their own choosing at their own pace. 

    During these periods, children experience a state of focused engagement, allowing them to fully immerse themselves in their work and develop a sense of inner discipline and fulfillment. 

    Normalization reflects the harmonious and balanced development of the child, demonstrating their innate capacity for growth and learning in a self-directed manner.

    Practical Life

    Practical life tasks encompass a range of activities that children perform both at home and in the school environment. 

    These tasks include self-care routines, classroom maintenance, and the preparation and serving of snacks. 

    Practical life activities are an integral part of a kid’s daily routine and are tailored to their age and developmental stage. 

    Younger children might engage in activities such as mopping or handwashing, which promote independence and the development of fine motor skills. 

    Older children, on the other hand, may participate in tasks that involve entrepreneurship or cooking, fostering skills related to problem-solving, organization, and responsibility. 

    Through practical life activities, children learn essential life skills while also cultivating a sense of self-reliance and contributing to the well-being of their immediate community.

    Sensitive Period

    A sensitive period refers to a specific phase in a kid’s development when they have a heightened readiness and receptiveness to acquire particular skills or abilities. 

    During these sensitive periods, children are naturally inclined and eager to explore and learn specific aspects of their environment. 

    An example of a sensitive period is when a child demonstrates a strong inclination toward developing a sense of order. 

    This means that they have a heightened sensitivity and interest in organizing their surroundings, establishing routines, and arranging objects in a systematic manner. 

    The sensitive period provides an optimal window of opportunity for children to absorb and internalize specific knowledge or skills with greater ease and enthusiasm.

    Sensorial Materials

    Sensorial materials in the Montessori learning approach are designed to stimulate and refine the five senses of children while also supporting their development in areas such as speech, writing, and math. 

    These materials engage children with a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, allowing them to explore and differentiate sensory experiences. 

    By engaging with sensorial materials, children develop their abilities to perceive and understand the world around them, enhancing their cognitive and sensory-motor skills. 

    Through hands-on interactions with these materials, children can sharpen their observation, discrimination, and classification skills, which lay a foundation for later learning in various academic subjects.

    The Three-Period Lessons

    The Three-Period Lesson is a teaching technique that involves three stages of introducing and reinforcing new knowledge or concepts. 

    In the first period, the teacher introduces or names the topic or object, providing a clear and concise statement such as “This is a lake.” 

    In the second period, the teacher prompts the child to demonstrate their understanding by asking them to physically show or point out what was just taught, for example, saying “Show me the lake.” 

    Finally, in the third period, the teacher assesses the kid’s comprehension by asking open-ended questions like “What is this?” to elicit a verbal response from the child, reinforcing their understanding of the topic or object. 

    This interactive approach actively engages the child in the learning process and helps solidify their knowledge through repetition and active participation.

    Work Cycle

    In Montessori, work is defined as any meaningful and purposeful activity. 

    According to Montessori’s philosophy, children learn best through work that they select and engage in voluntarily, and this work is often experienced as enjoyable and playful for children. Through work, a child’s natural desire to learn is prioritized compared to traditional school settings.

    As part of their daily routine, children follow a structured Montessori work cycle, which involves several steps. 

    First, they have the freedom to choose an activity that interests them from a range of options. Then, they dedicate their time and effort to complete the chosen activity, fully immersing themselves in the process. They are given uninterrupted work cycles to give them more opportunities for independence and have them take the time they need to learn.

    Once finished, they take responsibility for cleaning up and returning the materials to their designated places. 

    Finally, children experience a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in having successfully completed the task at hand. It also enforces their natural desire to learn.


    It is worth noting that despite the widespread adoption of Montessori institutions worldwide, the term itself is not trademarked.

    This means that anyone has the freedom to establish a Montessori academy.

    However, regardless of who opens Montessori institutions, the fundamental definition and guiding principles of Montessori remain consistent.

    For educators, administrators, and parents, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of what exactly constitutes a Montessori school and to determine whether it aligns with the needs and preferences of a potential student.

    By familiarizing oneself with the key characteristics and principles of the Montessori, informed decisions can be made regarding the suitability of a Montessori school for a child’s educational journey.


    What is the difference between a Montessori institution and a traditional school? The difference between a Montessori school and a regular school lies primarily in their educational philosophies, approaches to learning, and classroom environments. Montessori schools follow the educational philosophy developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, emphasizing child-centered learning, independence, and self-directed exploration. On the other hand, regular schools typically follow traditional educational methods that focus on structured curriculum delivery and teacher-led instruction.

    How is Montessori teaching different? Montessori teaching places a strong emphasis on the child as an active participant in their own learning. The focus is on the individual needs, interests, and developmental stages of each child. Teachers act as guides, observing and supporting the child’s natural progress while allowing them to take ownership of their learning. Montessori’s early childhood program encourages children to develop independence and self-help skills. Students are taught practical life skills such as dressing themselves, preparing food, or caring for their environment. This fosters a sense of responsibility, confidence, and autonomy.

    What type of child thrives in Montessori?The Montessori program is designed to meet the needs of a wide range of children, both older students and younger students, but certain qualities and characteristics often align well with the Montessori pedagogy. Children in Montessori are treated as unique individuals that deserve respect and care. The Montessori approach can benefit a variety of individuals. The philosophy and methods of Montessori are designed to support the natural development of children and provide an inclusive and adaptable learning environment for all.