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An Introduction to the Montessori Method

There are many different educational philosophies in the world, all promoting academic growth in children. Those that are child-centered interest me most, especially those that have been based on the theories of child development specialists, who recognise that young children learn best through play, and through self-discovery.

This is the first of a series of three blog posts, looking at the main principles of the most well known philosophies today... Montessori, Steiner/Waldorf and Reggio Emilia.

First, the Montessori method.

What is the Montessori method?

Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was an Italian physician, educator and founder of the Montessori method. Montessori observed children at play for many years, and her findings formed the foundation of her educational method. Based on her observations, Montessori believed that children could grow and develop very well if left to do so without too many restrictions, but with an orderly environment that promoted their efforts to be independent, and to be critical thinkers.

5 Key features of the Montessori method...

1. Respect for the child.

Respect for the child is the cornerstone on which all other Montessori principles rest.

In the mainstream, it is the popular opinion that children should be obedient and learn from the expert adult, but within Montessori provision teachers are respectful of each child's innate ability to learn for themselves, and they provide them with opportunities to do so. Children are actively taught how to show respect for themselves, for others, and for the learning environment, when opportunities to do so arise within the classroom. Children are not interrupted when they are concentrating; they are allowed to discover their own mistakes; and they are observed without judgement. Respect for all life forms is stressed, along with focus on inner-peace, peaceful interactions, social justice and community service.

If you would like to read more about this key principle, I recommend this article...

2. The sensitive periods

Montessori believed that children pass through developmental stages ('sensitive periods') when they are most able and willing to learn specific skills and knowledge.

In the mainstream, it is common for children to be taught from a curriculum, whereby a class of children are all taught the same skills or knowledge at the same time. Within Montessori, the role of the teacher is to observe the child at play, and then guide the child towards activities and materials that are suited to their stage of development. Children demonstrate these 'sensitive periods' by showing an intense interest and pleasure in repeating something in order to master a new skill, for example, tying a knot.

Here is an article that provides a comprehensive explanation of the different sensitive periods...

3. The absorbent mind.

Montessori considered the first six years of life as crucial to the development of the child, as this is when children readily 'absorb' information from the world around them.

From birth to three, the child learns to walk, talk and develop their sense of self... the 'unconscious absorbent mind stage'. From three to six years, the child begins to actively seek out experiences that will help them to develop their intelligence, coordination and independence... the 'conscious absorbent mind stage'. Montessori believed that children educate themselves, and that an observant and caring guide, such as a parent or teacher, can help to fuel a child's intrinsic desire for self-development. Essentially, children can't help learning. They are remarkable learners. Simply by living, children learn through their environment and through their experiences.

“It may be said that we acquire knowledge by using our minds; but the child absorbs knowledge directly into his psychic life. Simply by continuing to live, the child learns to speak his native tongue" Montessori.

4. The prepared environment

'The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult'


Freedom is the essential characteristic of the prepared environment. When children are free to explore materials of their own choosing, they readily absorb what they discover. Montessori was a master of creating environments for young children that enabled them to be independent, and active, in order to learn. Child-sized furniture and tools, materials displayed on open shelves to enable access, and self-serve drinking water/snacks, are all examples of how the environment is set up to promote independence. Montessori believed that the prepared environment should be orderly, beautiful and well maintained. A simple, uncluttered environment reflects peace and tranquility, and is inviting to the child. Mixed age classes encourage social interaction, and help to develop a sense of compassion and empathy for others.

For a more detailed look at the six principles of the prepared environment, I recommend this article...

5. The Montessori curriculum, materials and teacher

'The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, the children are now working as if I did not exist'


The Montessori curriculum is divided into five key areas of learning... practical life, sensorial, mathematics, language and culture. For a more detailed description of the five key areas, you can read this article...

Learning is viewed as a developmental process and therefore cannot be determined by age. Once a child has acquired a skill, or has the understanding of a new concept, then they progress to the next. It is essentially a tailored education. The Montessori materials are tactile and designed to teach through hands-on experience. Each material is designed with an in built 'control of error', enabling children to self-correct, without the need for adult intervention. The Montessori teacher's role is to observe the children at work, and then to prepare learning materials that meet the needs and interests of the children in their class. The focus is on children learning, not on teachers teaching.

Which, if any, of the Montessori principles resonate with your family values?

We are very fortunate here in Bristol to have a great number of outstanding Montessori early years settings, including some Montessori-inspired childminders. Sadly, we have very little options when it comes to primary/secondary Montessori provision. If you are interested in a flexi-schooling option, please visit

Coming soon on the blog... an introduction to the Steiner/Waldorf movement. If you don't want to miss it, please consider subscribing to the blog and you will be emailed a link.

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