What is a
Montessori Education?

Montessori is a unique method of teaching developed more than 100 years ago by Italian born physician, educator and peace advocate, Dr. Maria Montessori.

The Montessori teaching method uses hands-on, self-correcting materials in a thoughtfully prepared environment that encourages responsibility, independence and confidence. It is an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child – physical, social, emotional and cognitive.

Students are focused due to their desire to learn. They work in multi-age classrooms at their own pace, guided by the teacher, until they master their work. In this environment, learning is an exciting process of self-discovery. Children are fully engaged in work that matters to them. They are given freedom with responsibility – they are trusted and respected. Montessori is the spark that ignites a lifelong love of learning.

Some basic premises of the Montessori approach to teaching and learning include:

  • Children have a natural tendency to learn by active participation.
  • Children are capable of self-directed learning.
  • Children learn in a distinctly different way from adults.
  • Children are masters of a classroom environment that has been specifically prepared for them to be academic, comfortable, and to allow a maximum amount of independence.
  • Children learn through discovery, so instructional materials that are self-correcting are used as much as possible.

Dr. Maria Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori, the creator of “The Montessori Method of Education,” devoted her life to developing a philosophy of education emphasizing the importance of the child’s early years. As the first woman physician to graduate from the University of Rome, she became involved with education as a doctor treating children labeled as retarded. She treated even the smallest child with a respect that amounted almost to reverence. In 1906 she was invited to open a daycare center for the children of desperately poor families in the San Lorenzo slums of Rome. She called it “A Children’s House,” and developed an environment geared to the size, pace and interest of the boys and girls between the ages of three and six.

Dr. Montessori described the function of education as an “Aid to Life.” Her dynamic theories included such revolutionary premises as children are to be respected as different from adults and as individuals who are different from one another, children create themselves through purposeful activity, and the most important years for learning are from birth to age six. “The task of the child,” said Dr. Montessori “is to construct a man, oriented to his environment, adapted to his time, place and culture.” She emphasized two main points: first, it is the duty of the teacher to help rather than judge; and rudimental work does not exhaust, but rather gives nourishment.

Montessori with
Traditional Education

Montessori children are unusually adaptable. They have learned to work independently and in groups. Since they’ve been encouraged to make decisions from an early age, these children are problem-solvers who can make appropriate choices and manage their time well. Encouraged to exchange ideas and discuss their work freely with others, Montessori students develop strong communication skills that help ease the way in new settings.

Research has shown that the best predictor of future success is positive sense of self-esteem. Montessori programs, based on self-directed, noncompetitive activities, help children develop strong self-images and the confidence to face challenges and change with optimism.

Emphasis on cognitive structures and social developmentEmphasis on role knowledge and social development
Teacher’s role is unobtrusive; child actively participates in learningTeachers role is dominant, active; child is a passive participant
Environment and method encourage internal self–disciplineTeacher is primary enforcer of external discipline
Individual and group instruction adapts to each student’s learning styleIndividual and group instruction conforms to the adults teaching style
Mixed age groupingSame age grouping
Children encouraged to teach one another, collaborate and help each otherMost teaching done by teacher and collaboration is discouraged
Child chooses own work from interest and abilitiesCurriculum structured with little regard for childs interest
Child formulates concepts from self-teaching materialsChild is guided to concepts by teacher
Child works as long as s/he wants on a chosen projectChild usually given specific time for work
Child sets own learning pace to internalize informationInstruction pace set by group norm or teacher
Child discovers own errors from specially designed materialsErrors corrected by teacher
Learning is reinforced internally through child’s own repetition of activity; internal feelings of success repetitionLearning is reinforced externally by rewards, discouragements
Multi-sensory materials for physical exploration developmentFew materials for sensory, concrete manipulation
Organized learning program for care of self and self-care environment (shoe-polishing, sink washing, etc)Little emphasis on instruction or classroom maintenance
Child can work where s/he is comfortable, moves and talks at will (yet doesn’t disturb others); group work is voluntary and negotiableChild assigned seat; encouraged to sit still and listen during group sessions
Organized program for parents to understand the Montessori philosophy and participate in the learning processVoluntary parents involvement often only as fundraisers, not participants in understanding the learning process

Montessori Society (AMS)
AMS Philosophy & Practice

The American Montessori Society desires to define Montessori education as it is practiced in AMS accredited schools, taught in AMS teacher education program AMS, and articulated in AMS sponsored publications, symposia and conferences.

The American Montessori Society is committed to promoting quality Montessori education for all children from birth to 18 years based on these key concepts:

  • The aim of Montessori education is to foster competent, responsible, adaptive citizens who are lifelong learners and problem solvers.
  • Learning occurs in an inquiring, cooperative, nurturing atmosphere. Students increase their own knowledge through self- and teacher-initiated experiences.
  • Learning takes place through the senses. Students learn by manipulating materials and interacting with others. These meaningful experiences are precursors to the abstract understanding of ideas.
  • The individual is considered as a whole. The physical, emotional, social, aesthetic, spiritual, and cognitive needs and interests are inseparable and equally important.
  • Respect and caring attitudes for oneself, others, the environment, and all life are necessary.

The Montessori teacher is educated in these areas:

  • Human growth and development.
  • Observational skills to match students’ developmental needs with materials and activities. This allows the teacher to guide students in creating their individual learning plan.
  • An open-ended array of suggested learning materials and activities that empower teachers to design their own developmentally responsive, culturally relevant learning environment.
  • Teaching strategies that support and facilitate the unique and total growth of each individual.
  • Classroom leadership skills that foster a nurturing environment that is physically and psychologically supportive of learning.

Montessori classroom must have these basic characteristics at all levels:

  • Teachers educated in the Montessori philosophy and methodology appropriate to the age level they are teaching, who have the ability and dedication to put the key concepts into practice.
  • A partnership with the family. The family is considered an integral part of the individual’s total development.
  • A multi-aged, multi-graded, heterogeneous group of students.
  • A diverse set of Montessori materials, activities, and experiences, which are designed to foster physical, intellectual, creative and social independence.
  • A schedule that allows large blocks of uninterrupted time to problem solve, to see the interdisciplinary connections of knowledge, and to create new ideas.
  • A classroom atmosphere that encourages social interaction for cooperative learning, peer teaching, and emotional development.

Code of Ethics of the AMS

Principle I – Commitment to the Student

In fulfillment of the obligation to the children, the educator:

  1. Shall encourage independent action in the pursuit of learning
  2. Shall protect the opportunity to provide for participation in educational program AMS without regard to race, sex, color, creed, or national origin
  3. Shall protect the health and safety of students
  4. Shall honor professional commitments, maintain obligations, and contracts while never soliciting nor involving students or their parents in schemes for commercial gain.
  5. Shall keep in confidence information that has been secured in the course of professional service, unless disclosure serves professional purposes or is required by law.

Principle II – Commitment to the Public

The Montessori educator shares in the responsibility for the development of policy relating to the extension of educational opportunity for all and for interpreting educational program AMS and policies to the public. In fulfilling these goals, the educator:

  1. Shall support his professional society and not misrepresent its policies in public discussion. Whenever speaking or writing about policies, the educator should take the precaution to distinguish his private views from the official position of the Society.
  2. Shall not interfere with nor exploit the rights and responsibilities of colleagues within the teaching profession.

Principle III – Commitment to the Profession

The Montessori educator makes efforts to raise professional standards and conditions to attract persons worthy of trust to careers in Montessori education. In fulfilling these goals, the educator:

  1. Shall extend just and equitable treatment to all members of the Montessori education profession.
  2. Shall represent his own professional qualification with clarity and true intent
  3. Shall apply for, accept, offer, recommend, and assign professional positions and responsibilities on the basis of professional preparation and legal qualifications.
  4. Shall use honest and effective methods of administering his duties, use of time and conducting business.

As American Montessori Society members, we pledge to conduct ourselves professionally and personally, in ways that will reflect our respect for each other and for the children we serve. We will do whatever is within our talents and capacity to protect the right of each child to have the freedom and opportunity to develop his full potential. AMS requires that all member schools and teacher education program AMS agree to comply with the AMS Code of Ethics. AMS relies solely on self-compliance of this Code.

Adopted by the AMS Board of Directors October 1969. Expanded June 1975. Updated 2005.


Montessori Madness
by Trevor Eissler

The Science Behind the Genius
by Angeline S. Lillard, PhD

The Absorbent Mind
by Maria Montessori

Montessori in Contemporary American Culture
by Margaret Howard Loeffler

The Montessori Controversy
by John Chattin-McNichols

Montessori Life
A magazine published by the American Montessori Society

Montessori Supporters