What is the Montessori Teaching Method?

The Montessori approach to education differs from more traditional approaches in several ways. The method was designed to help each child reach their full potential. 

The Montessori teaching method is child-centered in its approach to learning. Individualized, hands-on learning is central to the Montessori method, which was designed to foster a child’s natural interests and pursuit of knowledge. 

The Montessori teaching method is based on the philosophy developed by Dr. Maria Montessori. So what exactly is the Montessori teaching method and what makes it so different?

Montessori students and teacher

What Is the Montessori Teaching Method?

The Montessori teaching method is a revolutionary educational method centered around the belief that every child possesses the ability and skill needed to reach their full potential. This is done through an individualized, hands-on classroom experience.

Children learn how to interact with their environment and learn key educational concepts at the same time. The Montessori teaching method mimics everyday life and aims to teach children through real-life experiences and multi-sensory materials.

Teaching takes place in a prepared environment, which means an environment that is designed for a child’s freedom of movement and choice. The Montessori classroom and lessons are tailored around each child’s unique interests and abilities.

Montessori education aims to develop the whole child. This means developing the social, academic, emotional, and physical aspects of the child. Dr. Maria Montessori believed that children do their best learning when more than one sense is engaged.

The Montessori teaching method recognizes that children develop and learn at their own pace, so the curriculum is designed for just that. Children do not simply memorize and regurgitate information. Instead, children learn through understanding the how and why of a subject.

Every aspect of the Montessori teaching method has been designed to help each child reach their full potential. It is because of this desired outcome that the Montessori method of teaching looks different from traditional methods of education: 

  • Multi-age classrooms: Montessori classrooms are mixed-age classrooms in groups of 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, 12-15, and 15-18. The reason for multi-age classrooms is two-fold. One reason is that younger children naturally learn from older children. In return, the older children retain more information when they share the knowledge with the younger students. Mixed-age classrooms are also a more realistic model. In life, children and adults work and engage with a mix of ages.
  • Student choice of activity: The prepared environment is prepared with purpose daily. The prepared environment is a place that allows for safe independent exploration by students. Teachers design hands-on activities based on the children’s age group and ability. Children are free to explore the environment and choose from a variety of materials to work with.  
  • Uninterrupted work cycles: Uninterrupted periods of work time, called work cycles, are one of the hallmarks of the Montessori teaching method. Unlike a traditional school environment, children in a Montessori setting enjoy uninterrupted periods to engage with their chosen activities. Typically, a work cycle lasts for three hours.
  • Teachers are guides: The Montessori teaching method follows a discovery model. This means children learn concepts through self-discovery. Children learn by engaging with materials. The teacher may demonstrate the process, but children learn by interacting with the material independently.

How was the Montessori Method Created?

The Montessori Method was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, and educator. In 1907 Dr. Montessori opened her first child care center named Casa Dei Bambini. Dr. Montessori‘s center served a poor community where the children were left to their own devices while their parents went to work.

Children between the ages of 3 -7 attended Casa Dei Bambini. It was here Dr. Maria Montessori developed and refined her groundbreaking educational theory. Dr. Montessori observed that the children showed a willingness to learn independently in a safe environment. The children enjoyed preparing meals and working with the materials Dr. Montessori designed.

Dr. Montessori designed a classroom and materials intending to encourage children’s natural eagerness to learn and absorb knowledge from their environment. The children at Casa Dei Bambini thrived in the carefully prepared environment, and in 1910, the Montessori Method was born.

The revolutionary child-centered approach to education garnered much attention because it was so successful. Soon Montessori schools began popping up in Europe.

The Montessori Curriculum

The Montessori teaching method uses a curriculum structured around five key areas. These areas are; Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematics, Language, and Cultural Studies. A Montessori curriculum is supported by materials and activities for each subject area. These increase in complexity as children master each material or activity.

Using the Montessori teaching method means that teachers, or guides as they are called, present a key lesson. The teacher explains the learning outcome of the specific Montessori material or activity. Once the lesson has been given the children engage with the material in their own way.

What are the Five Areas of Study?

Practical Life activities and lessons mimic a child’s everyday life. Examples of Practical Life activities include washing hands, sweeping the floor, or shining silverware.

Sensorial work helps children to understand the world they live in by exploring and refining their senses. Children learn the similarities and differences between different colors, shapes, smells, and sounds.

Mathematics taught using the Montessori teaching method is done through hands-on experiences that engage more than one sense. This is achieved through the use of carefully designed Montessori materials such as peg boards and threading beads on a string.  

Language, like Mathematics, is taught by engaging the senses. The foundation for language skills is presented through multisensory Montessori materials such as sandpaper letters and moveable alphabet letters.

Cultural Studies are an important part of the Montessori Curriculum. Cultural Studies is the umbrella term used to describe the study of botany, history, zoology, geography, science, music, and art. All of these subjects help children understand their culture and that of others. These subjects teach children about their world, community, and their role within it.

How is the Montessori Teaching Method Different?

The Montessori teaching method differs significantly from a traditional setting. The Montessori teaching method emphasizes and fosters independence and was developed around child-led learning. This means children have the freedom to choose what they would like to learn and how.

The role of the teacher in a Montessori environment looks a bit different from the role of a teacher in a traditional setting. The role of the educator employing the Montessori teaching method is that of a guide.

The teacher is responsible for preparing the environment (classroom) to ensure the needs of each child are met. The teacher, or guide, has to ensure the environment facilitates optimum learning opportunities for the children.

A teacher in a Montessori setting is there to encourage a child’s natural eagerness to learn, create and discover. A guide may present a lesson to introduce a concept or repeat a concept that has already been introduced.

Once a child has chosen their hands-on activity, the teacher acts as a guide, offering encouragement when needed. Teachers allow for self-correction when children are engaging in an activity.

“The essential thing is to arouse such an interest that it engages the child’s whole personality.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

What are the Principles of the Montessori Method?

The Montessori teaching method revolves around a set of principles developed by Dr. Maria Montessori. The principles below form the foundation for the Montessori curriculum and the Montessori teaching method.

Respect for the Child

Respect for the child is exactly that; respecting the uniqueness of every child and every child’s ability to work at their own pace. Montessori guides interact with children from a place of genuine respect. Respect for the child means respecting a child’s freedom to move and choose. This principle respects a child’s ability to correct themselves when they have made a mistake  

Absorbent Mind

The absorbent mind refers to Dr. Maria Montessori’s discovery that the first six years of a child’s life are the most pivotal for development. Children during this stage of early childhood possess a sponge-like ability to absorb information. It is during this period that children develop an understanding of their environment and how they interact with it.

A child’s personality is formed during the first six years, along with the foundations for their emotional and intellectual IQ. In addition, the first six years of life are when children begin to understand their culture and world.

Sensitive Periods

Sensitive periods refer to the specific periods in a child’s development when they are more sensitive to acquiring new skills and understanding new concepts. The Montessori teaching method is designed to maximize the effect of these periods.

The Prepared Environment

The prepared environment refers to the Montessori classroom. The Montessori classroom is prepared with purpose each day by the Montessori guide, no area of the environment is off limits. The environment is prepared in such a way as to maximize independence, learning opportunities, and freedom of movement.

The prepared environment gives each child the opportunity to engage with materials of their choosing and at their own pace. The environment is prepared to give each child within the environment the opportunity to develop their own unique abilities and potential. 

Educating the Whole Child

Educating the whole child means holistically approaching education. The Montessori teaching method does not compartmentalize learning, instead, the focus is on educating and engaging every aspect of a child. The ‘whole child’ means the spiritual, physical, intellectual, and emotional aspects of a child must be addressed.

To educate the whole child, the Montessori curriculum includes aspects such as Practical Life, Cultural Studies, and Sensorial work. Whole child education aims to appeal to the natural curiosity of a child and views each part of the curriculum as equally important. 

Freedom of Movement and Choice

The Montessori teaching method is rooted in the observation by Dr. Maria Montessori that children learn best when they are free to move. In the prepared environment, children are not only free to move, but they are free to choose. This means children can choose where they would like to sit, and which material they would like to engage with.

Freedom of movement and choice allows children to learn through hands-on interaction with their environment. Children are free to learn at their own pace and in the space they choose.


Auto-education is one of the main principles of the Montessori teaching method. Auto-education is the belief that children are capable and willing to teach themselves if provided with the opportunity.

The role of the educator using the Montessori teaching method is to create a prepared environment full of interesting stimuli for the children to explore. Montessori materials were designed for this purpose.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the belief that learning in itself, is reward and motivation enough for a child to continue. Within the prepared environment, there are no reward charts or gold stars. Children experience a natural sense of accomplishment when they master a process or material or understand a concept.


The Montessori teaching method is designed to foster independence in children from a young age. The Montessori method provides children with an environment that promotes independence. Through freedom of movement, children can choose materials and activities that they can interact with and learn from by themselves.

Individualized Learning

Despite having multi-age classes, learning programs are created according to each child. The Montessori teaching method was designed with the understanding that learning is not a “one size fits all” scenario.

Personalized learning programs are created based on a child’s interests, needs, and unique stages of development. Lessons consist of the Montessori guide presenting the materials to a child on a one-on-one basis.

“The child gives us a beautiful lesson – that in order to form and maintain our intelligence, we must use our hands. ” Dr. Maria Montessori

What are Montessori Materials?

Montessori education involves the use of Montessori materials that complement the Montessori curriculum. These materials are hands-on learning tools designed to address key learning outcomes. Montessori Materials are designed to support and encourage independent exploration and problem-solving. Montessori materials focus on developing one skill at a time.

Montessori materials are close-ended, meaning they have a clear beginning, middle, and end. The singular focus of Montessori materials is designed for repetition so that children can repeat the action or process until they have mastered the skill or learning objective of the material.

Montessori materials are built using natural materials and are often made up of objects children would find in their everyday life. Materials are designed with a ‘control of error’ meaning children can see their errors and figure out how to correct them.

The way the materials are presented using the Montessori teaching method means they are organized sequentially. Materials are presented in the classroom from left to right, left being the easiest of the materials and right the hardest.

What sets Montessori materials apart from more traditional learning tools is that they are designed to be used without the help of an adult.

What are the Benefits of the Montessori Teaching Method?

There are so many benefits to the Montessori teaching method! Children who attend a Montessori school become confident, independent, and enthusiastic children.

Mixed age group classrooms have a profound effect on children. The classroom environment mimics a family environment, so learners feel comfortable and confident as they interact and explore.

The Montessori teaching method helps children to think critically and logically from a young age. Children also learn to self-correct when taught using the Montessori method. Montessori offers children the freedom to learn at their own pace. Through the prepared environment and work of dedicated guides, each child’s individuality is catered for.

The Montessori teaching method allows children freedom within a safe space, which is fantastic for children of all ages. Children very rarely want to sit still! Young children, in particular, seem to always be in motion. Rather than stifle this need, Montessori embraces it and offers an environment where children feel in control of their bodies and choices.

The Montessori teaching method focuses on educating the whole child. This means children do not just develop academic skills. Instead, they are engaged physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially.

Children who attend a Montessori school or are taught the Montessori method at home develop stronger social-emotional skills than children who are taught in a traditional school environment.

For more information, check out our full article on the effectiveness of Montessori schools.

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