Montessori schools have a long history of providing unique teaching environments that help students succeed. However, because of its unique teaching style, some believe that Montessori schools are religious or teach religion.
Montessori schools are not inherently religious and do not include any type of religious instruction in the course material. Most Montessori schools present religion as part of their cultural curriculum. They encourage religious exploration and respect for human spirituality.
Below we will explore Montessori’s religious history and the emphasis on human spirituality in their current teaching methods.
Montessori’s Teaching of Spirituality
Montessori theory emphasizes the importance of spirituality in its teaching. Spirituality is listed as one of the five fundamental tendencies.
The Montessori curriculum is centered around these tendencies. Spirituality works alongside and is connected to the other four tendencies: work, exploration, group behavior, and the mathematical mind. Montessori believes that when these five tendencies work together, a student can succeed in education and real life. (Source)
In Montessori classrooms, students are taught that there are four chief aspects of Spirituality. These aspects include art, music, dance, and religion. When Montessori schools teach students about these four concepts, they are encouraged to explore their spirituality and develop it in healthy ways. These things are considered to be present and relevant in every human culture in history.
Dr. Montessori taught that spirituality is fundamental to human existence. One resource that many Montessori schools use is the Fundamental Needs Chart. This chart teaches children about the things necessary to survive and thrive. Presenting children with this chart is an effort to help kids learn what to prioritize in their education and their homes. (Source)
Depicted in the Fundamental Human Needs chart, a resource used extensively by children in Montessori schools, Dr. Montessori proposed that fundamental human needs could be categorized as, material (shelter, food, clothing, transportation, defense/safety, communication) and spiritual (love, spirituality/religion, culture including the arts & music, and adornment).
This chart is full of colorful images of the things stated above. Even at young ages, Montessori children understand the fundamentals of life. They later learn to incorporate them into learning. Montessori believes that being in tune spiritually leads to a better learning experience. Spirituality is essential to gaining knowledge and succeeding academically. Montessori attempts to blend material and spiritual needs.
When teaching concepts of spirituality, Montessori schools believe that spirituality connects rather than divides. Inner peace and a healthy spirit are things that people from a multitude of faiths and religions agree on. Montessori schools strive to bring children from different religious backgrounds together through mutual respect and a desire for spirituality.
Dr. Maria’s Spiritual Beliefs
Dr. Maria Montessori is the founder of the Montessori method. She was a remarkably intelligent woman who observed the lifestyle and learning methods of children. Through her observations, she was able to create teaching methods that provided kids with a safe and loving teaching environment.
Dr. Maria was born in Italy and grew up in the Catholic faith. The Catholic faith influenced Mr. Maria’s work and her own personal beliefs. All of her work includes beliefs of the sanctity of the human spirit, the fraternity of humankind, and the importance of the pursuit of peace. These beliefs are found within the Catholic faith but they are also beliefs that people from all faiths can appreciate.
As Dr. Maria got older and her career gained momentum, she had opportunities to travel extensively. During her lifetime, she met with world leaders, scientists, artists, politicians, and religious leaders. These people influenced Maria’s work and her own individual ideas. It is unclear how her religious beliefs continued to develop as she got older.
Through interpretations of her journal entries, some believe that there is evidence she came to a principle dissent with the Catholic Church and she drifted away from the traditional Christian beliefs. They believe that she had ties to non-European religion and was interested in eastern religion. There is also evidence that she was interested in the Theosophic Society.
None of these speculations were proven, but it is safe to assume that Dr. Maria’s faith was influenced by her travels and her experiences with different cultures.
Despite this, she continued to maintain the belief that human spirituality and inner peace are essential to every aspect of life including religion. She was insistent that a child’s spiritual journey was an individual experience and one religion should never be forced onto a child.
Is Montessori Associated with Religion?
Montessori teaches religion as part of their cultural curriculum. Students are taught about the history and beliefs of religions around the world. This gives Montessori students a greater appreciation for different cultures and may inspire them to learn about certain religions that interest them
Montessori schools strive to teach with no bias when it comes to religion. they instead express respect and interest for every religion discussed in the classroom.
Some schools, especially schools with a diverse student body, organize cultural fairs. At these fairs, students can represent their nations, cultures, and faiths and teach the other students about them.
These types of festivals and events are a way to honor and explore different cultures and religions. Students feel represented and seen at these events. Most Montessori schools use religion as an opportunity to teach history and respect.
Montessori schools may be independently owned and operated, public, or faith-based. Because of this, it is up to the individual school to determine its own policies regarding religious education, spiritual beliefs, and holiday practices.
Many Montessori schools are funded/operated by religious organizations. These schools are known as explicitly religiously oriented Montessori schools. Those who identify as Muslim, Buddhists, Yoruba, and Shinto commonly incorporate Montessori methods into their teachings about religion.
Those types of explicitly religious schools adapt Montessori practices and teaching techniques for religious instruction instead of presenting religion as a part of a cultural curriculum. Those who succeed in blending faith education and Montessori teaching focus on encouraging direct experience.
They value the child’s active participation in the expression of faith through rituals and services. Montessori-based faith encourages contemplation and individual learning.