The History of Montessori Schools

Is Montessori School right for your family?

Maria Montessori
Maria Montessori. Kurt Hutton / Getty Images

A Montessori school is a school that follows the teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor who devoted herself to educating the children of Rome's ghettos. She became famous for her visionary methods and insight into how children learn. Her teachings spawned an educational movement which is enormously popular throughout the world. Learn more about Montessori teachings.

The Montessori Philosophy

A progressive movement with more than 100-years of success worldwide, the Montessori Philosophycenters around an approach that is child-directed and is based on scientific research that comes from observation of individuals from birth to adulthood. There is a particular focus on allowing children to make their own choices in learning, with a teacher guiding the process rather than leading it. Much of the education method relies on hands-on learning, self-directed activity, and collaborative play. 

Since the name Montessori is not protected by any copyright, Montessori in the name of a school does not necessarily mean that it adheres to the Montessori philosophy of education. Nor does it mean that it is accredited by the American Montessori Society or the Association Montessori Internationale. So, buyer beware is an important caution to keep in mind when looking for a Montessori school.

Montessori Methodology

Montessori schools theoretically cover infant education through matriculation from high school. In practice, most Montessori schools offer infant education through 8th grade. In fact, 90% of Montessori schools have very young children: ages 3 to 6.

The centerpiece of the Montessori approach is allowing children to learn on their own while being guided by the teacher. Montessori teachers do not correct work and hand it back with lots of red marks. A child's work is not graded. The teacher assesses what the child has learned and then guides him into new areas of discovery.

This description of a Montessori school was written by Ruth Hurvitz of The Montessori School in Wilton, CT: 

The Montessori School's culture is devoted to helping each child grow toward independence by building confidence, competence, self-esteem and respect for others. More than an approach to education, Montessori is an approach to life. The program at The Montessori School, both in philosophy and pedagogy, is based on the scientific research work of Dr. Maria Montessori and on AMI Montessori training. The School respects children as self-directed individuals and fosters their growth toward independence and social responsibility, while creating a joyful, diverse and family-oriented community.

The Montessori Classroom

Montessori classrooms are designed in a multi-age mix from toddlers through adolescents which allow for both individual and social development. The classrooms are beautiful by design. They are set up in an open style, with work areas throughout the room and materials available on accessible shelving. Most lessons are given to small groups or individual children while other children are working independently.

The school uses stories, Montessori materials, charts, timelines, objects of nature, treasures from the wealth of cultures around the worlds and sometimes conventional tools to teach the children. Guided by the teacher, Montessori students actively participate in planning their time and taking responsibility for their work.

Committed to diversity, The Montessori School community is inclusive and depends on the tenets of respect. The school believes in sharing what we have with those in need and encouraging children to learn to live responsibly in the world. At The Montessori School, students are inspired to live both passionately and compassionately in a global community.

Montessori vs Traditional Primary Education

One of the differences between Dr. Montessori's approach to early childhood education and the approach found in many primary schools is the adoption of elements of the multiple intelligences theory. Harvard professor Howard Gardner developed and codified this theory in the late 20th century. Dr. Maria Montessori would seem to have developed her approach to teaching children along very similar lines.

Regardless of who thought of it first, the multiple intelligences theory proposes that children do not just learn using reading and writing intelligences. Many parents live by this theory because that is how they nurture their babies from birth. There are many parents who believe that too often, children who have been raised to use all their intelligence will go off to schools where they are severely restricted in what they learn and how they learn it, thus making a traditional public school a less than ideal option.

If multiple intelligences are important to your child-rearing philosophy, then Montessori and Waldorf schools are worth a look. You also will want to read about the progressive education movement which was germinating about the same time as Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner were putting their educational theories into practice.

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Your Citation
Kennedy, Robert. "The History of Montessori Schools." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Kennedy, Robert. (2020, August 27). The History of Montessori Schools. Retrieved from Kennedy, Robert. "The History of Montessori Schools." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).