The Montessori Method of education

The Tot investigates the child-centered educational approach developed by Italian physician and educator Dr. Maria Montessori.

In the U.S., the traditional education system is based on instruction delivered by a teacher using lectures, textbooks and written tests to evaluate students’ knowledge. If you grew up here, you probably received a traditional education and never questioned it because that’s what everyone did.

But you may remember that kid in your class who seemed smart, but always performed badly on exams. Or that restless student who could never sit still or focus. The traditional system probably failed them.

Today, child-centered approaches to education such as the Montessori Method are becoming more widespread and their benefits are being widely recognized. Students who would have been considered slow learners, inattentive or unruly in the traditional system often flourish within these progressive educational frameworks. And children who are well-adjusted and enjoy academic success in regular schools reap a ton of benefits from them, too.

What is the Montessori Method?

Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was one of the first women in Italy to be granted a diploma as a physician. She devoted her life to studying the physical, social, cognitive and emotional development of children around the world. From her observations, she developed the Montessori Method of education, which encourages natural curiosity, self-directed activity and hands-on learning in a supportive, nurturing environment. Her method has been used around the world for over 100 years.

“My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that certification… but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their own activity, through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual,” wrote Dr. Montessori in From Childhood to Adolescence (The Clio Montessori Series).

What are the core values of the Montessori Method?

Because Montessori isn’t a trademarked term, different styles of Montessori education are offered in both public and private Montessori schools around the U.S. and the world. While they all follow the same core principles, Montessori schools that only employ teachers who hold a diploma recognized by the American Montessori Society (AMS) or the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) founded by Dr. Montessori are more likely to adhere to the pure Montessori philosophy.

Here are the five core components of the Montessori Method according to the AMS:

  1. Multi-age classrooms

Montessori classrooms are split into three-year age groupings. The infant/toddler classrooms are from birth to three years, primary classrooms are from ages three to six, elementary classrooms mix kids aged six to nine and those aged nine to 12, and secondary classrooms comprise teens aged 12 to 15. The idea is that younger children learn from older children through observation, while the older kids strengthen what they’ve learned and develop their leadership skills by teaching the young ones.

  1. Child-directed work

Rather than having a teacher tell them what they’ll learn and how they’ll learn it, Montessori students are encouraged to choose activities they’re interested in and discover the answers to their questions on their own. By allowing children to choose the way in which they learn, the Montessori Method fosters a greater level of engagement, motivation and attention than traditional education. In order to support children’s natural curiosity and individual learning needs, the Montessori classroom environment is carefully thought-out and set up for optimal development.

  1. Specialized Montessori materials

Montessori schools encourage a hands-on approach to learning and offer a range of specialized educational materials to encourage exploration using all five senses. These esthetically pleasing objects made out of natural materials may look simple, but each one is designed to teach a specific skill through play and investigation.

  1. Uninterrupted work periods

Uninterrupted blocks of work time lasting two to three hours are the golden standard at Montessori schools. During these work periods, children are allowed to choose an activity, engage in it for as long as they want with the support and supervision of the teacher, pack it up when they’re finished, and then pick another activity. This allows each child to learn at their own individual pace.

  1. A trained Montessori teacher

The glue that holds all these core values together is a teacher who has received adequate training in the Montessori Method. They allow the child to develop naturally while offering a range of developmentally appropriate activities based on the child’s unique interests, abilities and characteristics. A Montessori teacher guides rather than instructs.

What are the benefits of the Montessori Method?

According to the Montessori philosophy, giving children freedom of choice and fostering their independence from a young age turns them into self-motivated, confident and enthusiastic learners who think critically, flexibly and creatively, and who can work collaboratively and respectfully with others.

While it sounds great in theory, how does it translate in the real world? A wide body of research substantiates the claims made by Montessori schools regarding the academic, social and emotional advantages of their program. Not only do Montessori students score higher on standardized tests than their traditionally educated counterparts, but they tend to have higher levels of motivation when it comes to learning, as well as more highly developed executive function, social skills and sense of community, to name a few benefits.

A note about grades and testing: Some private Montessori schools choose not to give grades or administer standardized tests because they believe a child’s motivation to learn should come from within. But public Montessori schools are required to administer the same standardized exams as other public schools, and some private schools choose to as well because their students often move on to schools that require standardized test results.

How do I know if Montessori is right for my child?

Schedule a visit at your local Montessori school as well as any other public or private traditional schools you’re interested in. Prepare a list of questions covering all the topics that are important to you and don’t be shy to ask them all. Once you’ve seen how each school operates and whether or not they represent your family’s core values, the answer should be clear.