Montessori education is an educational approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori based on her extensive research with “phrenasthenic” or “special needs” children and characterized by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological, physical, and social development. Although a range of practices exists under the name “Montessori”, the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and the American Montessori Society (AMS) cite these elements as essential:

Montessori at-a-glance:

  • Mixed age classrooms, with classrooms for children ages 2½ or 3 to 6 years old by far the most common
  • Is based on the principles and techniques developed by Dr. Maria Montessori
  • Uses a child’s natural motivation to learn – and stimulates that motivation
  • Engages children with seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching
  • Understands that movement can greatly enhance thinking and learning
  • Concentrates on the whole child – physical, social, emotional, cognitive
  • Respects each child’s individual differences with tailored instruction
  • Encourages freedom to make personal choices
  • Allows students to work independently at their own unique pace, ideally three hours
  • Utilizes specially-designed, progressively-sequenced learning materials
  • A constructivist or “discovery” model, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction
  • Assesses each student’s performance and adjusts teaching accordingly
  • Firmly believes that no child is unteachable
  • Freedom of movement within the classroom

In addition, many Montessori schools design their programs with reference to Montessori’s model of human development from her published works, and use pedagogy, lessons, and materials introduced in teacher training derived from courses presented by Montessori during her lifetime.

Montessori education is fundamentally a model of human development, and an educational approach based on that model. The model has two basic principles. First, children and developing adults engage in psychological self-construction by means of interaction with their environments. Second, 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.