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“What exactly is Montessori education?”

Elementary students playing music

As part of my role as Director of Enrollment Management at Riverbend School, I have the privilege of meeting many families who are just starting or continuing to research and understand what a Montessori education would look like for their child.  Two of the most frequently asked, and my personal favorite, questions I receive are “what exactly is Montessori education” and “what type of student or learner does it fit?”  To speak about the unique but sensible practices of Montessori education is a passion of mine, and educating parents around the myths and misunderstandings is always rewarding.

So, what exactly IS Montessori Education?  In a nutshell, Montessori is a philosophy and method of educating children.  It was started by a physician and scientist, Dr. Maria Montessori, in Italy over 100 years ago.   As a young girl, Maria had a passion for education, which was something she had to fight for in order to pursue any sort of higher education opportunities.  Pioneering for women back in a time when the only career choice for women was teaching, Maria was the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School.  

Elementary students reading

Dr. Montessori worked with children of both special needs and of “normal” development.  She started creating sensorial apparatus in which to teach the children, and to observe behaviors for spontaneity and direction of learning that belonged to the children.  She also observed from the children an “explosion of energy” in writing and reading within children of 4 and 5 years of age when the usual process of reading preceding writing was reversed.  Dr. Montessori also saw the benefit of having children learn in mixed-aged classrooms set up as 3-year cycles. Younger children constantly have a preview of what they will learn in the future (making taking risks much easier) and older children have the opportunity to review or even instruct previously learned skills (the learner becomes the master).  Her design of multi-aged classrooms also creates learning environments that provide natural opportunities for leadership, peer learning, diversity, and growth mindset.   

To answer the second question, what type of learner or student do Montessori schools fit, one would need to need to ask what student or learner would not benefit from those opportunities listed above?  Montessori is a fit for all learners-visual, tactile, auditory, organized/unorganized, self-starter/needs structure, etc. This all being said, however, when learning challenges have been identified, accommodations are key to knowing if a Montessori classroom will benefit a student needing an Individual Education Plan. This determination is made between the school and the family.

Montessori schools vary in culture and leadership, so knowing if a Montessori school is right for your family requires a visit.  Attending Open Houses and observing in classrooms are both excellent ways to see the method in action and to know if the school and community match your family’s educational goals.  We hope you will come and take a look!

Lynn Shevory

Montessori Certified Educator

Director of Enrollment and Management


Source:  Montessori – A Modern Approach by Paula Polk Lillard, copyright 1972 by Schocken Books, Inc.