Frequently Asked Questions about Montessori

WHAT is The Montessori Method?

Education Guided by Natural Development

The Montessori approach to education was named after the Italian physician who developed it, early in the 20th century. In short, the method stems from an understanding that children are no different from the young of any other species: they are “hard-wired” (and therefore naturally eager) to interact with the environment in ways that will help them build the skills and capacities of high functioning adulthood. Different kinds of activity are important to children’s growth at different stages of development, and children are naturally motivated to seek out the work that will help them complete the essential tasks of their particular developmental stage. Montessori called this "self-construction." 

Teachers who bring this understanding have a very different role in the learning environment. Montessori teachers (we call them “guides”) are trained to have a detailed understanding of children’s development, and to be keen observers of the many subtle signs of each individual child’s development.

The Montessori guide’s job is to prepare the environment and provide the opportunities for children to engage in developmentally meaningful activity, which we call “work.” We recognize that children's work is developmentally meaningful when it creates deep focus and the desire for repetition. We look for "meaningful work, freely chosen."

Children in Montessori environments are active, self-regulated and joyful learners, who are able to achieve their own unique potential because they are learning at their own pace in their own rhythm, drawn to work that has been made available to serve their developmental needs.



"Follow the Child" vs. "Standardize the Child"

In traditional education, committees of expert adults decide and define exactly what children need to learn, in what sequence, and on what timetables. Teachers deliver the prescribed instruction on the approved schedules. All children receive the accepted knowledge obediently, and in unison. Tests are administered regularly to prove that officially sanctioned learning is taking place at the approved pace. 

Standardized curriculum decisions are made with good intentions, but they are a tragic disservice to both children and teachers. Though standardized curricula are arrived at through educated discussion and debate, they are presented unambiguously as definitive bodies of culturally necessary knowledge and skills. Neither teachers nor students are encouraged to develop the skills of inquiry and critical deliberation that allow human beings to navigate their lives confidently and self-sufficiently. 

The Montessori guide is committed first and foremost to serving as a student of the child and as an assistant to each child's individual and natural development. In contrast to the obedience and passivity that are cultivated in traditional schools, in a Montessori learning community, the child's work requires active, intelligent, and freely chosen interaction with the environment. Montessori education is structured to serve – always – as preparation for life.

“Work is the cornerstone of freedom. The freedom of our children has as its limit the community, for freedom does not mean doing what one wants, but being the master of oneself.”  – Dr. Maria Montessori.


Who was Maria Montessori?

Physician & Anthropologist

Dr. Maria Montessori, born in Italy in 1870, was among the first Italian women ever to receive a medical degree. Dr. Montessori was also a passionate student of Anthropology. For a number of years after receiving her diploma, she put this unique skill set to work, scientifically observing and thoroughly documenting the development of children. She recognized that at each stage of development, children exhibit extraordinary sensitivities and interests in experience and activity that serves their particular developmental needs. Once she had developed a thorough understanding and complete mapping of the predictable patterns of child development, Dr. Montessori became curious about what schools might look like if they were designed to anticipate and respond to children’s clear and distinct developmental needs.

She had the opportunity to try out her ideas in a housing tenement in the slums of San Lorenzo, where she started what she called a “Children’s House” for children between the ages of 3 and 6. Before long, the learning community she created in San Lorenzo was attracting the attention of educators from all over the globe. Dr. Montessori spent the rest of her life devising an integrated body of developmentally meaningful materials and learning environments, and preparing practitioners to serve children in those settings. Though many educators came to study and borrow from Montessori's ideas and materials, she remained adamant throughout her life that her method was, by necessity, an integrated whole, and would lose its effectiveness if applied in piecemeal fashion.


What is Scientific Pedagogy?

The Scientific Method Applied by Trained Educators 

American book publishers refused to use Dr. Montessori’s term, “Scientific Pedagogy,” in the titles of her published work. Dr. Montessori thought the preferred marketing term “The Montessori Method” diminished the importance of the scientific perspective that made her method powerful and universally applicable.

Scientific Pedagogy is the systematic application of an understanding of the universal characteristics of children to the preparation of environments, materials, and learning cultures that serve the unique development of each individual child. Scientific Pedagogy is the close observation of the individual child within a reflective practice, in which the actions of the guide are responsive to phenomena observed in the personality of the child.

In the years since Dr. Montessori's death, the materials and lessons she developed as an integrated body of work have been implemented unsystematically, resulting in an enormous range of quality and authenticity in Montessori schools and classrooms. Though no one has the standing to judge the authenticity of another's interpretation, we ore convinced that scientific pedagogy is the essential"pedagogical DNA" without which authentic Montessori practice is quite impossible. Even with a fully equipped classroom and a knowledgeable guide, "The Method" can't be implemented without a transformed understanding of the adult's role in the classroom.

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One of Maria Montessori's most often-repeated admonitions is: "Follow the child."  This statement is a reminder of the transformed orientation to teaching and learning that is necessary for the Montessori practitioner… a commitment to serving as a student of development, as a discerning observer of the child, and as a humble assistant to each child’s unique and idiosyncratic internal self-construction.