What is a Montessori School?

Arts and Education

There’s no doubt you’ve heard of Montessori schools. It’s quite possible, however, that you’re not sure what a Montessori school is. Here's an overview of this educational approach.

Origins. Dr. Maria Montessori, the first woman in Italy to become a physician, founded the Montessori educational system in 1907. According to Montessori.org, the system was “guided by her discovery that children teach themselves.” She “designed a ‘prepared environment’ in which children could freely choose from a number of developmentally appropriate activities.” Don’t assume, however, that a school bearing the name Montessori necessarily utilizes these principles. The name Montessori is not trademarked, although the American Montessori Society does give accreditation to schools adhering to the Montessori philosophy.

Montessori vs. traditional teaching. The Montessori method fully utilizes all five senses for learning, as opposed to the heavily emphasized traditional methods of listening, reading or watching. This distinction, however, has diminished as traditional public schools have begun utilizing varied learning styles as part of their teaching curriculum. According to the Montessori Society, “Children in Montessori classes learn at their own, individual pace and according to their own choice of activities from hundreds of possibilities.” At a Montessori school, learning is considered “an exciting process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning.” In order to facilitate this love of learning, Montessori students are placed in age groups where older students “spontaneously” share their knowledge with younger students.

The basics of a Montessori education. Montessori education includes the following:

  • The three-hour work period. Up until age 6, children are given two three-hour uninterrupted work periods to do whatever they wish. As children get older, these work periods become more structured, but still allow for freedom of choice.
  • Work centers. The traditional student-sit-at-desk method of learning is replaced by students utilizing various work centers throughout the learning day.
  • Areas of study. Subjects in a Montessori school are interwoven and not taught in isolation.
  • Assessment. There are no grades, no rewards or punishment. Progress is tracked through “portfolio and the teacher's observation and record keeping.”
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