The Montessori method of education involves children’s natural interests and activities rather than formal teaching methods. A Montessori classroom places an emphasis on hands-on learning and developing real-world skills. It emphasizes independence and it views children as naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a sufficiently supportive and well-prepared learning environment. The underlying philosophy can be viewed as stemming from Unfoldment Theory. It discourages some conventional measures of achievement, such as grades and tests.
The method was developed in the early 20th century by Italian physician Maria Montessori, who developed her theories through scientific experimentation with her students; the method has since been used in many parts of the world, in public and private schools alike.
A range of practices exists under the name “Montessori”, which is not trademarked. Popular elements include mixed-age classrooms, student freedom (including their choices of activity), long blocks of uninterrupted work time, specially trained teachers and prepared environment. Scientific studies regarding the Montessori method are mostly positive, with a 2017 review stating that “broad evidence” exists for its efficacy.
Following her medical training, Maria Montessori began developing her educational philosophy and methods in 1897, attending courses in pedagogy at the University of Rome and learning educational theory.: 60 While visiting Rome’s mental asylums during her schooling with a teacher, Montessori observed that confined children were in need of more stimulation from their environment. In 1907, she opened her first classroom, the Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, in a tenement building in Rome.: 112 From the beginning, Montessori based her work on her observations of children and experimentation with the environment, materials, and lessons available to them. She frequently referred to her work as “scientific pedagogy“.
In 1901, Maria Montessori met the prominent education reformers Alice and Leopoldo Franchetti. Maria Montessori was invited to hold her first course for teachers and to set up a “Casa dei Bambini” at Villa Montesca, the home of the Franchettis in Città di Castello. Montessori lived with the Franchettis for two years and refined her methodology together with Alice Franchetti. In 1909, she documented her theories in Il metodo della pedagogia scientifica (later translated into English as The Montessori Method in 1912). The Franchetti Barons financed the publication of the book, and the methodology had the name “Method Franchetti-Montessori”.
Montessori education had spread to the United States by 1912 and became widely known in educational and popular publications. In 1913 Narcissa Cox Vanderlip and Frank A. Vanderlip founded the Scarborough School, the first Montessori school in the U.S. However, conflict arose between Montessori and the American educational establishment. The 1914 critical booklet The Montessori System Examined by influential education teacher William Heard Kilpatrick limited the spread of Montessori’s ideas, and they languished after 1914. Montessori education returned to the United States in 1960 and has since spread to thousands of schools there. Montessori continued to extend her work during her lifetime, developing a comprehensive model of psychological development from birth to age 24, as well as educational approaches for children ages 0 to 3, 3 to 6, and 6 to 12.
Montessori education also spread throughout the world, including Southeast Asia and India, where Maria Montessori was interned during World War II. In October 1931, Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi met with Maria Montessori in London. At the time, Gandhi was very interested in the role the Montessori method might play in helping to build an independent nation. Thus, initially, Montessori education in India was connected to the Indian independence movement. Later, elite, private Montessori schools also arose, and in the 1950s, some Montessori schools opened to serve children from lower-socioeconomic families, a trend that continues today with foundation and government-funded schools.
Montessori education is based on a model of human development. This educational style operates abiding by two beliefs: that psychological self-construction in children and developing adults occurs through environmental interactions and that children (especially under the age of six) have an innate path of psychological development. Based on her observations, Montessori believed that children who are at liberty to choose and act freely within an environment prepared according to her model would act spontaneously for optimal development.
- Mixed-age classrooms: classrooms for children ages 2+1⁄2 or 3 to 6 years old are by far the most common, but 0–3, 6–9, 9–12, 12–15, and 15–18-year-old classrooms exist as well
- Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options
- Uninterrupted blocks of work time, ideally three hours long
- A constructivist or “discovery” model, in which students learn concepts from working with materials rather than by direct instruction
- Specialized educational materials are often made out of natural, aesthetic materials such as wood, rather than plastic
- A thoughtfully prepared environment where materials are organized by subject area, is accessible to children, and is appropriately sized
- Freedom, within limits
- A trained teacher experienced in observing a child’s characteristics, tendencies, innate talents, and abilities
Montessori education involves free activity within a “prepared environment”, meaning an educational environment tailored to basic human characteristics, to the specific characteristics of children at different ages, and to the individual personalities of each child. The function of the environment is to help and allow the child to develop independence in all areas according to his or her inner psychological directives. In addition to offering access to the Montessori materials appropriate to the age of the children, the environment should exhibit the following characteristics:: 263–280
- An arrangement that facilitates movement and activity
- Beauty and harmony, cleanliness of environment
- Construction in proportion to the child and their needs
- Limitation of materials, so that only material that supports the child’s development is included
- Nature in the classroom and outside of the classroom