The value of Montessori

What did Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Helen Keller have in common? They were strong supporters of Montessori education in the United States. Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel founded the Montessori Educational Association at their Washington, D.C., home. These exceptional people, along with countless others, recognized value in the Montessori Method.

Montessori is an educational method based on the works of Maria Montessori. Maria was one of the first female physicians in Italy in the early twentieth century. Her clinical observations of how children learn combined with her desire to help children led her to give up a university chair and her medical practice to teach children.

Dr. Montessori analyzed how children learn and the effects of the environment in which they learn. She found children are motivated by a natural curiosity and teachers should prepare an environment to cultivate a student's natural desire to learn.

In contrast to the strict schedule and discipline in traditional schools where too often "[t]he result is children who are disorderly because order had been imposed upon them, lazy because they had previously been forced to work, and disobedient because their obedience had been enforced (Maria Montessori)", the Montessori Method encourages students to explore their natural curiosities and as a result become actively engaged in learning.

As soon as children find something that interests them they lose their instability and learn to concentrate.
— Maria Montessori

More thought-provoking insights

When education speaks to the soul, issues of focus disappear. When the heart directs education, passion steps forward to foster growth, productivity and fill our being with inner peace
— Resa Steindel Brown
Our current [education] system is still geared toward supplying the workforce of the Industrial Revolution. Its intent is... masses who are trained to serve them by following orders. Their function is to perform rote, mechanical and uncreative tasks.
— Resa Steindel Brown
Mass education taught a basic curriculum of reading, writing, arithmetic and a few other subjects. It was not interested in cultivating souls, but in providing just enough basic literacy skills to enable people to read instructions... But, to the industrialists funding and running public education, there was an even more important curriculum. It was covert. It taught punctuality, obedience and rote, repetitive work. It taught what was needed to place an obedient workforce into their factories. And today’s curriculum has not changed.
— Resa Steindel Brown
We need a system that fits the needs of today, the Information Age, an age that requires creative and innovative thinkers.
— Resa Steindel Brown
What we want to achieve is the child in pursuit of knowledge, not knowledge in pursuit of the child.
— George Bernard Shaw
Inner development is the education of soul qualities, spiritual qualities, ego strength, differentiation, will, thinking, feeling, and breathing. The body itself opens from the inside.
— Rudolph Steiner
Factory labor demanded workers who showed up on time... It demanded workers who would take orders from a management hierarchy without questioning. And it demanded men and women prepared to slave away at machines or in offices, performing brutally repitious operations... Thus from the mid-nineteenth century on... schools machined generation after generation of young people into a pliable, regimented work force.
— Alvin Toffler
As a result, our children are not really educated. To educate means to ‘educe’ or draw out what is already within. This system is not interested in helping our children find out who they are or what they like to do. This system is interested in controlling them while they are young, so they will grow into adults who can be controlled.
— Resa Steindel Brown
Children are searching for the real meaning of life. We believe in their possibilities to grow. That is why we do not hurry to give them answers; instead we invite them to think about where the answers might lie. The challenge is to listen.
— Louise Cadwell

More info at the Montessori Foundation

A prepared environment

The Montessori classroom is a carefully prepared environment that is learner centered and developmentally appropriate. Children are free to be in motion, choose their work, and love to learn. Montessori students are independent and respectful individuals. The self-paced program based on the individual needs of the student fosters confident, responsible learners.

Montessori materials are an integral part of the prepared environment. The materials are multi-sensory to assist the students in mastering concepts such as math and language. The materials encourage students to work independently and at their own pace. Learning is individualized so children quick to learn are never slowed down, and children who need more repetition to learn get the repetition they need. The classroom schedule allows large blocks of time for work. The uninterrupted time allows for completion of work as opposed to the stop and go schedule of traditional schools.

Traditional classroom vs Montessori classroom


  • Emphasis placed on rote learning & social behavior
  • Teacher controls the classroom
  • Teacher is the only disciplinarian in the classroom
  • Primarily group instruction
  • Teaching is conducted by teacher
  • Same age children and teacher assigns work
  • Teacher instructs child on concepts
  • Specific time allotted on projects
  • Learning pace set by group
  • External reinforcement of learning success
  • Rewards and punishments
  • Assigned a specific location in class
  • Group participation required
  • Self-care left to parents


  • Emphasis placed on cognition and social formation
  • Teacher as guide of classroom
  • Environment and method promote self-discipline
  • Primarily individual instruction
  • Teacher encourages collaboration
  • Mixed age children and child chooses their own work
  • Self-teaching materials help child learn
  • Child is allocated time for lessons
  • Learning pace set by individual student
  • Internal reinforcement of learning success
  • Personal feelings of progress
  • Child is free to work in the classroom
  • Group participation elective
  • Self-care learned

Education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment. The teacher’s task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child.
— Maria Montessori

Help them help themselves

The teacher serves as a resource and guide in the classroom as it's the ability and readiness of the student that determines the presentation of lessons. Likewise, the role of the director in the Montessori classroom is not founded upon the traditional model of teacher, as one that teaches in front of the class, but rather on the notion that the director should guide the children and ‘help them to help themselves’. Montessori directors are taught the principles and methods of the Montessori approach to education, both theoretically and practically, in training centers throughout the world, most of which require at least a bachelors degree for admission.

Never help a child with a task at which he can succeed.
— Maria Montessori

Think and act for themselves

Students participate in individual and group lessons. Individual lessons allow children to work at their own pace in mathematics and language, while group lessons in the cultural subjects (history, botany, zoology, geography) give students the opportunity to gain communication skills necessary in cooperative learning. The multi-aged, multi-grade groups of students encourage social interaction for cooperative learning and peer teaching. Montessori students are encouraged to be creative, responsible and independent. Montessori helps children to think and act for themselves, independently and with the courage of thought.

The most important time of life is birth to age six.
— Maria Montessori

More at the American Montessori Society