Montessori FAQs

Where did Montessori come from?

Montessori (pronounced MON-tuh-SORE-ee) education was founded in 1907 by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first woman in Italy to become a physician. She based her educational methods on scientific observation of children’s learning processes. Guided by her discovery that children teach themselves, Dr. Montessori designed a “prepared environment” in which children could freely choose from a number of developmentally appropriate activities. Now, nearly a century after Maria Montessori’s first Casa dei Bambini (“Children’s House”) in Rome, Montessori education is found all over the world, spanning ages from birth to adolescence.

What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?

Montessori emphasizes learning through all five senses, not just through listening, watching, or reading. Children in Montessori classes learn at their own, individual pace and according to their own choice of activities from hundreds of possibilities. Learning is an exciting process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning. Montessori classes place children in three-year age groups (3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and so on), forming communities in which the older children spontaneously share their knowledge with the younger ones. Montessori represents an entirely different approach to education.

What do children do in a Montessori program?

skills, sensorial development, language, mathematics, history, science, and cultural studies (geography, art, music). In addition to the available materials in each area, children might also take time out during the day to sing songs, read a story, or enjoy nature.

Children have both individual and group lessons in each area. Throughout the day, children are free to work with the activities. Emphasis is placed on helping children choose pursuits that are of interest to them, thus supporting the child’s natural curiosity and desire to learn. At the elementary (6-12 years) level, you can also expect to see children working together on projects, since collaboration at this age helps the child to become socially adapted to society and aware of the needs of others.

What you won’t see in a genuine Montessori program are systems of rewards and punishments to promote work or control behavior. In a Montessori class, children are engaged, active, and respectful because they are internally motivated, spending their time in an environment that consistently supports development of their will — that is, positive willpower and self-control.

What is the role of the teacher in a Montessori classroom?

Each classroom is prepared specially for children and the adult has a greater responsibility that goes beyond just teaching. Always thoughtful and observant, the adult in this community acts as a dynamic link between the child and the specially designed materials and presentations that meet their needs and interests at just the right moment. This new role, different than the conventional teacher’s, requires the aid and support of a structured approach to observe and evaluate the learning process. Instead of actively directing the learning process, the adult is trained to be responsive at the optimum moment and have the patience to observe and protect the child while they are engaged in self-directed learning. In a Montessori classroom the adult is careful to time and guide her intervention with respect to individual needs and interests.

How many students are typically in a Montessori class?

Unlike some private schools, which strive for very small classes, Montessori values the lessons of community that can happen when the size of the class is somewhat larger. A larger, multi-age class can encourage students to rely on themselves and their peers as resources, rather than going directly to a teacher for support first.

Montessori classes at the Early Childhood level and above might include 20 – 30 students whose ages span 3 years. All members of the community benefit from this configuration. Older students are proud to act as role models; younger ones feel supported and gain confidence about the challenges ahead. And all children develop their independence as they problem solve with their peers within their classroom community.

Classes for infants and toddlers are smaller, with typically 10 – 15 children. Often the teacher-to-child ratio for this youngest age group is set by state licensing standards.

How do Montessori teachers discipline the children?

The adults are quick to praise and slow to criticize. The role of the adult is to guide the child to activity that is within his ability, and that approach engenders a growing confidence that is based on a series of successes. No rewards or punishments are used to motivate the child. Genuine pride that comes from self-accomplishment is enough. The adult sets a positive tone, and always strives to be confident, firm, fair, consistent, and yet friendly. Expectations are clearly established and community guidelines that are reasonable, well defined, and clearly understood are consistently and fairly enforced.

When you have solved the problem of controlling the attention of the child, you have solved the entire problem of their education.

How do Montessori teachers discipline the children?

The adults are quick to praise and slow to criticize. The role of the adult is to guide the child to activity that is within his ability, and that approach engenders a growing confidence that is based on a series of successes. No rewards or punishments are used to motivate the child. Genuine pride that comes from self-accomplishment is enough. The adult sets a positive tone, and always strives to be confident, firm, fair, consistent, and yet friendly. Expectations are clearly established and community guidelines that are reasonable, well defined, and clearly understood are consistently and fairly enforced.

When you have solved the problem of controlling the attention of the child, you have solved the entire problem of their education.

Why do Montessori teachers encourage my young child to be independent?

Helping a child develop independence and self-sufficiency is a hallmark of Montessori programs. Children who are independent and make self-directed choices develop self-confidence and experience pride when they accomplish their goals.

In the Montessori classroom, young children are supported to become autonomous in caring for their personal needs and in taking care of their classroom environment. Children are given freedom of movement and choice over their activities in the classroom and are encouraged and supported to “do it for themselves.”

Montessori students are self-confident learners who believe in their own abilities to accomplish a task. This confidence and self-reliance sets the stage for all future learning.

Why do Montessori schools call the activities work? Is there no play?

This is a common misunderstanding of Montessori education. Dr. Montessori realized that children’s play is their work—their effort to master their own bodies and environment—and out of respect she used the term “work” to describe all their classroom activities. Montessori students work hard, but they don’t experience it as drudgery; rather, it’s an expression of their natural curiosity and desire to learn. They engage in these activities with joy and focus—intent on mastering new skills independently!

Why is there such a non-competitive atmosphere in Montessori programs when we live in such a competitive world?

In a Montessori program, children are on their own journey at their own pace toward maturity, acquisition of skills, and incorporation of knowledge. Therefore the emphasis is on assisting and supporting children to develop and learn based on their own interests, desires, and timing. Attention is also paid to promoting collaborative social and educational relationships that enhance learning through shared ideas and insights.

Using systems of rewards in the classroom distracts a child’s personal journey by intentionally directing his or her attention to the progress of other children. Ultimately, many studies have shown that competition inspired through the environment does little to build confidence or strengthen internal motivation and self-direction over the long-term. There certainly are situations where competitive activities can move children to greater efforts and improved skills, but as Maria Montessori stated, “The prize and the punishment are incentives towards unnatural or forced effort, and therefore we certainly cannot speak of the natural development of the child in connection with them.”