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Montessori’s Biography

Maria Tecla Artemesia Montessori (August 31, 1870 – May 6, 1952) was an Italian physician and educator best known for the philosophy of education that bears her name, and her writing on scientific pedagogy.

Montessori was born in Chiaravalle, Italy. Her father, Alessandro Montessori was an official of the Ministry of Finance working in the local state-run tobacco factory. Her mother, Renilde Stoppani was well educated for the times and was the great-niece of Italian geologist and paleontologist Antonio Stoppani. While she did not have any particular mentor, she was very close to her mother who readily encouraged her. She also had a loving relationship with her father, although he disagreed with her choice to continue her education.

Montessori is the first woman in Italy to graduate in medicine from the University of Rome; she worked with mentally retarded children, then served in a variety of university teaching positions. In 1907, based on her research in philosophy, child development and education, she opened the Casa dei Bambini, teaching children of normal intelligence using her methods. She spent most of her remaining life writing, lecturing and teaching about her methods.

 Casa dei Bambini

In 1906 Montessori was invited to oversee the care and education of a group of children of working parents in a new apartment building for low-income families in the San Lorenzo district in Rome. Montessori was interested in applying her work and methods to mentally normal children, and she accepted. The name Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, was suggested to Montessori, and the first Casa opened on January 6, 1907, enrolling 50 or 60 children between the ages of two or three and six or seven.

At first, the classroom was equipped with a teacher’s table and blackboard, a stove, small chairs, armchairs, and group tables for the children, and a locked cabinet for the materials that Montessori had developed. Activities for the children included personal care such as dressing and undressing, care of the environment such as dusting and sweeping, and caring for the garden. The children were also shown the use of the materials Montessori had developed. Montessori herself, occupied with teaching, research, and other professional activities, oversaw and observed the classroom work, but did not teach the children directly. Day-to-day teaching and care were provided, under Montessori’s guidance, by the building porter’s daughter.

In this first classroom, Montessori observed behaviors in these young children which formed the foundation of her educational method. She noted episodes of deep attention and concentration, multiple repetitions of activity, and a sensitivity to order in the environment. Given free choice of activity, the children showed more interest in practical activities and Montessori’s materials than in toys provided for them, and were surprisingly unmotivated by sweets and other rewards. Over time, she saw a spontaneous self-discipline emerge.

Based on her observations, Montessori implemented a number of practices that became hallmarks of her educational philosophy and method. She replaced the heavy furniture with child-sized tables and chairs light enough for the children to move, and placed child-sized materials on low, accessible shelves. She expanded the range of practical activities such as sweeping and personal care to include a wide variety of exercises for care of the environment and the self, including flower arranging, hand washing, gymnastics, care of pets, and cooking. She also included large open air sections in the classroom encouraging children to come and go as they please in the room’s different areas and lessons. In her book she outlines a typical winter’s day of lessons, starting at 09:00 AM and finishing at 04:00 PM:

  • 9–10. Entrance. Greeting. Inspection as to personal cleanliness. Exercises of practical life; helping one another to take off and put on the aprons. Going over the room to see that everything is dusted and in order. Language: Conversation period: Children give an account of the events of the day before. Religious exercises.
  • 10–11. Intellectual exercises. Objective lessons interrupted by short rest periods. Nomenclature, Sense exercises.
  • 11–11:30. Simple gymnastics: Ordinary movements done gracefully, normal position of the body, walking, marching in line, salutations, movements for attention, placing of objects gracefully.
  • 11:30–12. Luncheon: Short prayer.
  • 12–1. Free games.
  • 1–2. Directed games, if possible, in the open air. During this period the older children in turn go through with the exercises of practical life, cleaning the room, dusting, putting the material in order. General inspection for cleanliness: Conversation.
  • 2–3. Manual work. Clay modelling, design, etc.
  • 3–4. Collective gymnastics and songs, if possible in the open air. Exercises to develop forethought: Visiting, and caring for, the plants and animals.

She felt by working independently children could reach new levels of autonomy and become self-motivated to reach new levels of understanding. Montessori also came to believe that acknowledging all children as individuals and treating them as such would yield better learning and fulfilled potential in each particular child. She continued to adapt and refine the materials she had developed earlier, altering or removing exercises which were chosen less frequently by the children. Also based on her observations, Montessori experimented with allowing children free choice of the materials, uninterrupted work, and freedom of movement and activity within the limits set by the environment. She began to see independence as the aim of education, and the role of the teacher as an observer and director of children’s innate psychological development.

The spread of Montessori education in Italy

The first Casa dei Bambini was a success, and a second was opened on April 7, 1907. The children in her programs continued to exhibit concentration, attention, and spontaneous self-discipline, and the classrooms began to attract the attention of prominent educators, journalists, and public figures.In the fall of 1907, Montessori began to experiment with teaching materials for writing and reading letters cut from sandpaper and mounted on boards, moveable cutout letters, and picture cards with labels. Four- and five-year-old children engaged spontaneously with the materials and quickly gained a proficiency in writing and reading far beyond what was expected for their age. This attracted further public attention to Montessori’s work. Three more Case dei Bambini opened in 1908, and in 1909 Italian Switzerland began to replace Froebellian methods with Montessori in orphanages and kindergartens.

In 1909, Montessori held the first teacher training course in her new method in Città di Castello, Italy. In the same year, she described her observations and methods in a book titled Il Metodo della Pedagogia Scientifica Applicato All’Educazione Infantile Nelle Case Dei Bambini (The Method of Scientific Pedagogy Applied to the Education of Children in the Children’s Houses).Two more training courses were held in Rome in 1910, and a third in Milan in 1911. Montessori’s reputation and work began to spread internationally as well, and around that time she gave up her medical practice to devote more time to her educational work, developing her methods and training teachers. In 1919 she resigned from her position at the University of Rome, as her educational work was increasingly absorbing all her time and interest.

 International recognition and growth of Montessori education

As early as 1909, Montessori’s work began to attract the attention of international observers and visitors. Her work was widely published internationally, and spread rapidly. By the end of 1911, Montessori education had been officially adopted in public schools in Italy and Switzerland, and was planned for the United Kingdom. By 1912, Montessori schools had opened in Paris and many other Western European cities, and were planned for Argentina, Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Switzerland, Syria, the United States, and New Zealand. Public programs in London, Johannesburg, Rome, and Stockholm had adopted the method in their school systems. Montessori societies were founded in the United States (the Montessori American Committee) and the United Kingdom (the Montessori Society for the United Kingdom).In 1913 the first International Training Course was held in Rome, with a second in 1914.

Montessori’s work was widely translated and published during this period. Il Metodo della Pedagogia Scientifica was published in the United States as The Montessori Method: Scientific Pedagogy as Applied to Child Education in the Children’s Houses, where it became a best seller. British and Swiss editions followed. A revised Italian edition was published in 1913. Russian and Polish editions came out in 1913 as well, and German, Japanese, and Romanian editions appeared in 1914, followed by Spanish (1915), Dutch (1916), and Danish (1917) editions. Pedagogical Anthropology was published in English in 1913. In 1914, Montessori published, in English, Doctor Montessori’s Own Handbook, a practical guide to the didactic materials she had developed.


Observation, or watching the child is for parents easy to do. We can spend countless hours just watching children and see how they are enjoying themselves, exploring their environment. This was the simple method of how Maria Montessori has learned about children and developed her theories on child development. She observed without preconceived ideas that helped her develop materials that the children needed and were interested in. Observation is also the way adults can learn about what the child needs are. For example, if a child starts banging on objects, it means that he has a need for that gross motor activity, so give him a drum. If children are pushing things around the room and they need to walk but can’t do it themselves yet, help them or give them a wagon to push. This is how observation can help create harmony, fulfilling the child’s current needs.

Following the Child

Follow the child, they will show you what they need to do, what they need to develop in themselves and what area they need to be challenged in. “The aim of the children who persevere in their work with an object is certainly not to “learn”; they are drawn to it by the needs of their inner life, which must be recognized and developed by its means.” – Maria Montessori.

From what you have observed from the actions of the children, follow them in what they need to do. If they want to climb, give them the opportunity to climb in a safe manner, do not be overprotective. Following the child also means being non-directive, do not tell them what to do all the time. Give your child the freedom to choose what he wants or needs to do and to act on his own. Do not tell them what they have to do, but rather present them with choices of different materials/toys. Also, stand back and watch the child what he does, there is no need to intervene all the time unless he has become really destructive and about to hurt himself or others. Knowing when to intervene is a skill parents will learn as they get to know their child and as parents have set limits for the child.

Correcting the Child

Children make mistakes. They may spill something, drop food unintentionally and so on. There is no need to raise your voice in situations like those. Instead, calmly recognize the mistake “oh you’ve spilled the water…, why don’t we get a cloth and wipe it up.” This is an opportunity to ask the child to do some valid practical work with you. You will find that children do like to clean up as they see it as something adults do. There is no need to blatantly point out a child’s mistake, there is a way to make them realize it. For example, with a cloth bib a child who is learning how drink from a glass will find out that if he tips the glass a bit too early, the water will spill on him and he will feel it. If they mispronounce a word, there is no need to correct them, but rather say the word correctly. Correcting children may result in them being scared to attempt anything in fear of making another mistake.

Children will make mistakes and we need to teach them in a nice manner. Giving the children freedom and choice, supporting them in their choice by making sure they are safe, feeding their inquiring minds in a way that they can understand and observing their needs and fulfilling these can be the key to helping your children develop their full potential.

Prepared Environment

“The teacher’s first duty is to watch over the environment, and this takes precedence over all the rest. It’s influence is indirect, but unless it be well done there will be no effective and permanent results of any kind, physical, intellectual or spiritual.” – Maria Montessori.

The prepared environment is important part of Montessori. It is the link for a child to learn from adults. Rooms are child sized with activities set up for success and allow freedom of movement and choice. The environment has to be safe for the child to explore freely. The environment has to be ready and beautiful for the children so it invites them to work. Montessori refers to work as an activity the child does or what many people might call play. She calls this work since it is through this that they create themselves and it is not just a play. Their play is their work and they are still enjoying it. The adult’s role then is to construct the environment in which they will learn. The development of the child is therefore dependent on the environment she or he is in, and this environment also includes the parents.

Absorbent Mind

Montessori observed how children learned the language without anyone teaching them. This sparked her idea for the “absorbent mind”. Children under the age of three, do not need to have lessons in order to learn, they simply absorb everything in the environment by experiencing it, being part of it. It is therefore important that the environment set up is good, nice and positive since this is what the child will absorb whether he chooses to or not. The language of the adult is one that a child will easily pick up. Be careful of what you say around them. Even though you think they are not listening, as they may not be able to express themselves yet, when they can you will not want them swearing back at you. It is for this reason that one should not try to say “No” to a child. We do not want them saying “No” to us rudely. Instead, we say “Stop” when we want to tell children that what they are doing is wrong.

Montessori education practices

Ages birth to three

White Pine Montessori School in Moscow, Idaho, USA

Infant and Toddler Programs: Montessori classrooms for children under three fall into several categories, with a number of terms being used. A “Nido”, Italian for “nest”, serves a small number of children from around two months to around fourteen months, or when the child is confidently walking. A “Young Child Community” serves a larger number of children from around one year to two-and-a-half or three years old. Both environments emphasize materials and activities scaled to the children’s size and abilities, opportunities to develop movement, and activities to develop independence. Development of independence in toileting is typically emphasized as well. Some schools also offer “Parent-Infant” classes, in which parents participate with their very young children.

Ages three to six

Preschool and kindergarten Montessori classrooms for children from two-and-a-half or three to six years old are often called Children’s Houses, after Montessori’s first school, the Casa dei Bambini in Rome in 1906. This level is also called “Primary”. A typical classroom serves 20 to 30 children in mixed-age groups, staffed by one trained teacher and an assistant. Classrooms are usually outfitted with child-sized tables and chairs arranged singly or in small clusters, with classroom materials on child-height shelves throughout the room. Activities are for the most part initially presented by the teacher, after which they may be chosen more or less freely by the children as interest dictates. Classroom materials usually include activities for engaging in practical skills such as pouring and spooning, materials for the development of the senses, math materials, language materials, music and art materials, and more.

Ages six to twelve

Elementary Classrooms: Classrooms for this age are usually referred to as “Elementary”, and can range in size from very small up to 30 or more children, typically staffed by a trained teacher and one or more assistants. Classes usually serve mixed-age six- to nine-year old and nine- to twelve-year old groupings, although six- to twelve-year old groups are also used. Lessons are typically presented to small groups of children, who are then free to follow up with independent work of their own as interest and personal responsibility dictate. The scope of lessons and work in the Elementary classroom is quite broad. Montessori used the term “cosmic education” to indicate both the universal scope of lessons to be presented, and the idea that education in the second plane should help the child realize the human role in the interdependent functioning of the universe. Classroom materials and lessons include work in language, mathematics, history, the sciences, the arts, and much more. Student directed explorations of resources outside the classroom, known as “going out” in Montessori, are an integral element of the Elementary work.

Ages twelve to eighteen

Middle and High School: Montessori education for this level is less well-developed than programs for younger children. Montessori did not establish a teacher training program or a detailed plan of education for adolescents during her lifetime. However, a number of schools have extended their programs for younger children to the middle school and high school levels. In addition, several Montessori organizations have developed teacher training or orientation courses and a loose consensus on the plan of study is emerging. Montessori wrote that,

The essential reform of our plan from this point of view may be defined as follows: during the difficult time of adolescence it is helpful to leave the accustomed environment of the family in town and to go to quiet surroundings in the country, close to nature.

Thus, many Montessori schools for adolescents 12–18 are set in the country, close to nature.

Use of Montessori terminology

In 1967, the US Patent Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled that “the term ‘Montessori’ has a generic and/or descriptive significance.”Therefore, in the United States and elsewhere, the term can be used freely without giving any guarantee of how closely, if at all, a program applies Montessori’s work. The ruling has lead to “tremendous variation in schools claiming to use Maria Montessori’s methods.”

What is the Montessori Method of Education

This system of education is both a philosophy of child development and a rationale for guiding such growth. It is based on two important developmental needs of children:

  1. The need for freedom within limits
  2. A carefully prepared environment which guarantees exposure to materials and experiences.

Through these developmental needs, the child develops intelligence as well as physical and psychological abilities. The Montessori method of education is designed to take full advantage of the childrens desire to learn and their unique ability to develop their own capabilities. Children need adults to expose them to the possibilities of their lives, but the children must determine their response to all the possibilities.

The main premises of Montessori education are:

  • Children are to be respected as different from adults and as individuals who differ from each other.
  • Children possess an unusual sensitivity and intellectual ability to absorb and learn from their environment that are unlike those of the adult both in quality and capacity.
  • The most important years of childrens growth are the first six years of life when unconscious learning is gradually brought to the conscious level.

Children have a deep love and need for purposeful work. They work, however, not as an adult for the completion of a job, but the sake of an activity itself. It is this activity which enables them to accomplish their most important goal: the development of their individual selves – their mental, physical and psychological powers.


A Comparison of Traditional Pre-school and Montessori

Rigid Curriculum   Flexible curriculum
Progresses at teacher’s pace   Allows the child t o learn at his own pace
Constant guidance by teacher   Child free to discover on his own
Non scientific   Scientific method of teaching
Much role-play and fantasy   Reality orientated
Random placement – not necessary to return to specific place   Specific places for materials – sense of order
Teacher decides what the child has to learn   Child chooses activities according to inner needs
Teacher-centered environment   Child-centered learning environment
Use of reward and punishment in motivation   Self-education through self-correcting materials
All children are treated alike   Recognition of sensitive periods in each child
Play materials for non-specific skills   Multi-sensory materials to develop specific skills
Rigid rules not to move furniture and to sit in designated places   Liberty to move about self and furniture
Silence is on many occasions enforced   Liberty to speak (without disturbing others) as he pleases
Focus on imparting maximum quantum of knowledge   Focus on developing the child’s wholesome personality

Montessori Materials

Maria Montessori writes about the characteristics of her didactic materials as

  1. The principal quality of my material is to attract the attention of the child and to provoke a permanent reaction within the child.
  2. (The next quality) of my material is that it is systematic. All the objects are connected in a series and together form a material of development.
  3. (The third quality) of my material is that it contains (what I call) the control of error. As the child uses the material, the material shows the child his mistakes and, in this free path the child can correct these errors.

This also liberates him from unfavourable and discouraging criticism of others and develops in him the sense of (self-) criticism.

The California Lectures of Maria Montessori, 1915, p.11,12

The Montessori Materials are classified under five titles:

  1. Practical Life:


Practical Life studies are the type of activities where the child encounters as preliminary activities in a Montessori classroom. Practical Life materials provide a smooth transition between home and school for children. The tools used in the practical life materials are mostly household goods where children are familiar from their homes. Although, they are not allowed to touch those materials at home, they are encouraged to play –in Montessori’s terms ‘work’– with them in a Montessori environment. Therefore, practical life activities are very attractive for children.

It is very interesting that when children use real household goods in the classroom, they do not show any interest to play with the fake and toy like versions of those materials. In addition, using tools that are used in the real life situations are more meaningful for children, because mastering them is a key to their independence.

Practical Life activities serve, also, for another important purpose in the Montessori Method. Understandably, due to the reasons stated above, the child meets with the work cycle of Montessori for the first time in the practical life area. The child learns how to prepare a proper place to study (table or mat), how to choose a material and after his/her work finishes, he learns how to tidy up and place the material in its correct location.

While working with the practical life materials, the child’s

    • Attention and concentration skills,
    • Hand-eye coordination,
    • Understanding of order,
    • Self-control ability,
    • Perception of independence develops and improves.

Practical life activities are

    • Manual Skills: Pouring, sorting, threading beads, paper cutting, weaving and sewing buttons, and so on.
    • Grace and courtesy: How to greet others, how to introduce yourself, how to shake hands and how to apologize and so on.
    • Self-care: Cleaning your nose without disturbing the others, washing hands, dressing, buttoning, ribbon binding and so on.
    • Care of The Environment: Ordering the shelves, dusting, caring for the plants and animals and so on.
    1. Sensory Materials

The purpose of these materials is to stimulate the child’s senses and to improve sensory perception from coarse to fine in order to increase their sensitivity. Children can work on their own or with a friend. The materials were designed to appeal to the child’s every sense aiming the most from each. The information about quality of objects such as dimension or color is defined to the child through the Montessori Materials. In the traditional education methods, these kind of concepts are presented by showing pictures or by using some random objects in the environment, but the Montessori Materials intelligently present these qualities in a concrete from and they form a complete curriculum which is lacked in traditional methods. Consider the Red Rods: it teaches long-short concept and grading the material from long to short and when the child is carrying and ordering the rods, his hands and even the whole body measures their length not only by the eye but also with the movement of the body in reference to his own dimensions. Of course, any child learns the concept of dimensions at last, whether they look at the pictures of long and short trees, buildings or people. The main difference of a child who learned these concepts at three will be the capacity of the brain that is to be developing. The brain resembles a perfect balloon, its volume will be limitless. So, you can blow it with a constant flow of air. The only limit is time; you have six years and you can start to blow any time. If you wait for four years, that will result in the loss of a capacity that could be obtained in four years.

Sensory Materials also prepares the child for the concept of number and builds a basis for the concept of area and volume.

      1. Mathematical Materials

“It is almost possible to say that there is a mathematical relationship between the beauty of his surroundings and the activity of the child; he will make discoveries rather more voluntarily in a gracious setting than in an ugly one.”

                                                                                                         Maria Montessori

Mathematical Materials of the Montessori Method is a perfect evidence of Maria Montessori’s elegant genius. These materials are simple in design and the concept is easily delivered to the child’s mind. Children learn math as an enjoyable pursuit but not as a difficult subject. When children experience math in a comfortable and enjoyable way, there won’t be a reason to fear or to be anxious about math. One other important aspect of Mathematical Materials is their ability to lead the child towards success, as a result, the child’s attitude towards the concepts of math will be confident.

Mathematical Materials are always attractive for children. Because, when the child feels that he is successful this experience strengthens his confidence and develops continuous success.

Mathematics is completely an abstract knowledge; Montessori’s genius lies in her ability to design materials where this abstract form of knowledge is presented in a concrete form. The important thing is not the child’s correctness in operations, but his experience of the mechanism of mathematical concepts. Moreover, the control of error quality of the Montessori Materials shows the child whether his operations are correct or false. As a result, the child builds a positive attitude towards mathematics from the very early years of his life, which is an invaluable kind of experience.

Mathematical Materials are composed of information on numeracy, mathematical operations, geometry and other various mathematical concepts. An advance of the related concept presented in a material always follows a simpler one. Therefore, Montessori Materials, as a whole, accepted as a wall of bricks that built the mathematical knowledge piece by piece while establishing a perfect coherence between each concept. While working the materials children learn mathematics as hands on experience. The child begins with the concrete form of concepts and reaches an abstract understanding of mathematics. In traditional education, the child never experiences a mathematical concept in a concrete form. As a result, math education is delayed till six or seven, but in the Montessori Method children begin learning math at the age of two. When children come to age of six, they can process two or three digit operations and know about basic geometric concepts, fractions, they can read simple graphics and they have information about the concept of area and volume. Moreover, throughout the whole process, none of the children builds a negative perception towards mathematics.

      1. Literacy

Language is the most important media for communication, self-expression and thinking. In the first year of their lives children learn hundreds of words, the rules of grammar of their mother tongue and correct pronunciation. The early years of life are very important to strengthen and expand the word stock of the child. Literacy area aims to teach the child how to use his language most efficiently.

First of all, children recognize the sounds that make up a language and after learning the sounds, they learn the symbols (letters) of those sounds. Reading is the process of sounding these symbols, but reading includes also understanding, therefore learning reading is a stepwise process. After learning to vocalize the symbols, the children are encouraged to learn how to give meaning what they have read.

Literacy for children is another world, such as math. Surprisingly, most of the time, you can see many kids preferring writing experience instead of  playing with toys.

      1. Cultural and Artistic Materials

The materials of culture aims at learning about the Earth and promoting the diversity of every living being. This area is one of the most important areas in a Montessori classroom. Children learn about different cultures, different civilizations of history and most importantly, our responsibility to protect animals and nature.

Geography, history and biology allow the development of the child’s perception of his environment and the world. When creating the concept of the world, the child learns to think and behave with all the living beings in his mind.

For Montessori, art is an inseparable part of the culture area. Art is a form of language for self-expression with different possibilities. In this area, Montessori aims to show children different art forms and make them familiar with the language of art. The end product in an art activity is not the main aim but the art experience. Children are encouraged to live this experience to express their inner selves freely.

The child is introduced with the art of different cultures and artists. This gives a broad perspective of ideas  about how other people interpret the world, life, or anything they want to express.

Experiencing art at an early age support children’s perception of beauty and aesthetic pleasures.

 The characteristics of the Montessori Materials:

      1. Each set of material presents only one concept at a time. By that quality the concept is differentiated from all other stimulus to be isolated. So, the attention of the child is focused only on the aimed concept.
      2. Each set of tools has pieces, which show the maximum and minimum values of the concept that it intends to present. This quality is because the relative concepts can only be presented with the opposite.
      3. The tools are designed in such a way that will teach the concepts from the simple to complex and from concrete to abstract.
      4. Each material forms the basis for advanced concepts.
      5. One of the most important feature of the Montessori Materials is to have the control of error mechanism. Through this mechanism the child learns by herself, in other words she works with the material without help of an adult and can evaluate the result by herself.




I see the beauty everywhere

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