The International Montessori Council Member

Montessori Questions and Answers

Frequently asked questions about the Montessori method and philosophy.

What is it?

This system of education is both a philosophy of child growth and a rationale for guiding such growth. It is based on the child's developmental needs for freedom within limits, and a carefully prepared environment which guarantees exposure to materials and experiences through which to develop intelligence as well as physical and psychological abilities. It is designed to take full advantage of the self-motivation and unique ability of young children to develop their own capabilities. The child needs adults to expose him to the possibilities of his life but the child himself must direct his response to the possibilities.

Key premises of Montessori education are:

1. Children are to be respected as different from adults, and individuals who differ from each other.

2. The child possesses unusual sensitivity and mental powers for absorbing and learning from his environment that are unlike those of the adult both in quality and capacity.

3. The most important years of growth are the first six years of life when the unconscious learning is gradually brought to the conscious level.

4. The child has a deep love and need for purposeful work. He works, however, not as an adult for profit and completion of a job, but for the sake of the activity itself. It is this activity which accomplishes for him his most important goal" the development of himself -- his mental, physical and psychological powers.

How did it begin?

Dr. Maria Montessori, the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School, became interested in education as a doctor treating retarded children. After returning to the University for further study, she began her work with normal children in 1907 when she was invited to organize schools in a reconstructed slum area of San Lorenzo, Italy. Later, she traveled all over the world lecturing about her discoveries and founding schools. She wrote approximately fifteen volumes and numerous articles about education. She died in 1952.

Her medical backround led Montessori to approach education not as a philosopher or educator in the usual sense, but as a scientist. She considered the classroom as a laboratory for observing children, and testing and retesting for the validity of ideas and practices for aiding them in their growth. This open minded attitude, and the respect for the child which it implies, is the most fundamental aspect of Montessori education.

When was it introduced to the United States?

Montessori education was introduced to this country in 1912, with one of the early schools being established by Alexander Graham Bell in his own home. After an initially enthusiastic reception, interest in the Montessori approach soon waned as the dominant emphasis of education shifted from the development of intellectual skills to life adjustment, and from the need for limits in the classroom to permissiveness. This was not typical of the response to Montessori education in other parts of the world where it continued to flourish. The Montessori approach was reintroduced in the United States by Nancy McCormick Rambausch in 1953; and principally because of the changes in the psychological and educational climate, there has followed a tremendous resurgence of interest in this system of teaching. There are now over 1500 Montessori schools in this country.

Is it for all children?

The Montessori system has been used successfully with children between the ages of two and a half and eighteen years from all socio-economic levels, representing those in regular classes as well as the gifted, the retarded, the emotionally disturbed and the physically handicapped. Because of its individual approach, it is uniquely suited to public education, where children of many backgrounds are grouped together. It is also appropriate for classes in which the student-teacher ratio is high because the children learn at an early age to work independently.

Is it oriented to a particular religion?

Montessori is not associated with any particular religious persuasion. Schools have been sponsored by groups representing non-sectarian interests as well as Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and Hindu faiths.

Is the child free to do what he chooses in the classroom?

The child is free to move about the classroom at will, to talk to other children, to work with any equipment whose purpose he understands, or to ask the teacher to introduce new material to him. He is not free to disturb other children at work or to abuse the equipment that is so important to his development.

What does the teacher do?

The teacher is working with individual children, introducing materials, and giving guidance where needed. One of her primary tasks is careful observation of each child in order to determine his needs and to gain the knowledge she needs in preparing the environment to aid his growth. Her method of teaching is indirect in that she neither imposes upon the child as in direct teaching, nor abandons him as in a non-directive permissive approach. Rather, she is constantly alert to the direction in which the child himself has indicated he wishes to go, and she actively seeks ways to help him accomplish his goals.

What does this do for the child?

Observers of Montessori children have described them as having developed self-discipline, self-knowledge and independence, as well as enthusiasm for learning, an organized approach to problem solving, and academic skills.