What Is Montessori? An Overview of the Montessori Method

A wider, loftier life is (humankind’s) than ever before, and children have to be prepared for it, so the fundamental principle in education is correlation of all subjects, and their centralization in the cosmic plan.

— Maria Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential

Named for its founder, Dr. Maria Montessori, the Montessori method is based on two simple truths: That children must be respected, and that children spontaneously love learning.

These principles and careful observation form a child-centered method that Montessori called an “education for life.” Its goal is the finest development of the whole human being – emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually – toward the nurturing of peaceful, caring citizens.

The Montessori prepared environment honors the child and the beauty and order essential for him to work at his natural, individual and optimal level. Carefully designed Montessori materials attract the interest of the student, while at the same time teaching an important, isolated concept for the child’s discovery. The child constructs her own reality and awareness, at first concretely through hands-on manipulation, until patterns are internalized and she discovers the next level of abstraction. The integrated Montessori curriculum shows the child how every aspect of learning is connected and intertwined. The Montessori educator understands and guides the child without interfering in her natural ability to teach herself and become an independent, contributing member in the “cosmic plan.”

The Montessori method of teaching aims for the fullest possible development of the whole child, ultimately preparing him for life's many rich experiences. 

More on Doctor Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori is often referred to as "ahead of her time". Born in Italy in 1870, Maria Montessori moved to Rome with her parents in 1875 at the age of five. Although her father Alessandro embraced traditional views of female education, it was the more liberal approach of her mother, Renilde Montessori, that encouraged Maria Montessori to explore her natural inclination to learn, regardless of the social restrictions placed on women in the male-dominated society of the day. In so doing, Renilde played an active role in her daughter's upbringing, and indeed, the whole philosophy behind what is now known as the "Montessori Method."

Dr. Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952)

Studies in math, physics, natural sciences, biology and medicine led Maria Montessori to apply to the College of Medicine at the University of Rome, and she became the first female certified physician in Italy in 1896, graduating at the top of her class. In addition to her duties as a doctor, Maria Montessori conducted research work in psychiatric medicine and continued her education in philosophy, psychology and education. She was appointed professor of anthropology at the University of Rome in 1904.

Throughout, her interest in the development of children grew - first from her experience with disabled children and the deplorable state of their care at the time, then further with mentally-challenged children in her care. As she learned from the work of others already accomplished in the area of early childhood education, her own theories evolved, embracing elements, ideas and methods of all disciplines she had studied.

In 1906, at the age of 36, Maria Montessori founded the first Casa dei Bambini, or "Children's House" for children of the industrial revolution's working-class in one of the city's worst slum districts. With some 60 children in her care, Maria Montessori began their education by instructing the older children on how to help out with everyday chores. Sense materials that she had developed previously were introduced, and to her surprise, Montessori discovered how naturally young children adapted and enjoyed learning everyday tasks. The structure of work and constructive activity gave the children a sense of self-worth that they had never before experienced.

One of Dr. Maria Montessori's first major hurdles to improve the lives of these children was accomplished by encouraging parents to recognize that their children were special and of great value. From this reverence for the individual beauty and potential grew the Montessori Method. Critical periods of early childhood development were identified through her observations, and the methodology evolved to address these periods with age-appropriate learning tools and activities. Further development of the methodology embraced what Montessori described as the "cosmic education" - where children would be given the environment and guidance to become the peacemakers of the future, existing in harmony with all living beings in a sustainable world.

From this time to her death in 1952, Maria Montessori continued her work, which became widely recognized and embraced throughout the United States, Europe, and India. She conducted and founded training courses on these continents, established a research institute in Spain, and developed Montessori Training Centers in the Netherlands and London.

Maria Montessori was a three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize- in 1949, 1950, and 1951.

More on Montessori — The NAMC Blog

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More on Montessori — Video Resources


“Montessori Madness!”
by Trevor Eissler

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  • Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child open himself to life.

    — Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child, p. 50

  • Resting no longer on a curriculum or a timetable, education must conform to the facts of human life.

    — Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

  • The child is endowed with unknown powers, which can guide us to a radiant future ... education must take as its aim the development of these hidden possibilities.

    — Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

  • This is education, understood as a help to life; an education from birth ... all must combine in their respect and help for this delicate work of formation...

    — Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

  • The hands are the instruments of man's intelligence.

    — Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

  • There is much that we teachers can do to bring humanity to a deeper understanding, to a higher well-being, and to a greater spirituality.

    — Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

  • Only in the child do we see reflected the majesty of nature which, in giving freedom and independence, gives life itself.

    — Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

  • The child seeks for independence by means of work; an independence of body and mind.

    — Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

  • The instinct to move about, to pass from one discovery to another, is a part of [the child's] nature, and it must also form a part of their education.

    — Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind