One hundred years ago Dr. Maria Montessori, one of Italy's first female physicians, inspired the birth of a worldwide educational movement while caring for mentally challenged children in a clinic in Rome. Combining sensory-rich environments and hands on techniques to reach children previously labeled deficient and insane, she found overwhelming success and within two years all the children passed Italy's standardized public school tests.

With a scientific background to guide her, she opened a children’s house for preschool children and observed they learned best when engaged in purposeful activity rather than simply being fed information. She drew upon her clinical understanding of children's cognitive growth and development in constructing an educational framework that would respect individuality and fulfill the needs of the "whole child." Dr. Montessori's pioneering work created a blueprint that are the ultimate goal of today's educational reform movement. Montessori, a two time Nobel peace Prize nominee, became widely recognized as being ahead of her time. 

Today, thousands of Montessori schools are in the U.S. including hundreds of programs in public and charter schools, where enrollment often results in long waiting lists. Remarkably, her visionary ideas remain viable concepts that have profoundly influenced the entire professional landscape.

Details Of The Montessori Method

The schedule - The three-hour work period.
Under the age of six, there are one or two 3-hour, uninterrupted, work periods each day, not broken up by required group lessons. Older children schedule meetings or study groups with each other and the teacher when necessary. Adults and children respect concentration and do not interrupt someone who is busy at a task. Groups form spontaneously or are arranged ahead by special appointment. They almost never take precedence over self-selected work. 

Multi-age grouping:
Children are grouped in mixed ages and abilities in three to six  year spans: 0-3, 3-6, 6-12 (sometimes temporarily 6-9 and 9-12), 12-15, 15-18.  There is constant interaction, problem solving, child to child teaching, and socialization. Children are challenged according to their ability and never bored. The Montessori middle and high school teacher ideally has taken all three training courses plus graduate work in an academic area or areas. 

Work centers: 
The environment is arranged according to subject area, and   children are always free to move around the room instead of staying at desks. There is no limit to how long a child can work with a piece of material. At any one time in a day all subjects -- math, language, science, history, geography, art, music, etc., will be being studied, at all levels.
Teaching method - "Teach by teaching, not by correcting"  There are no papers turned back with red marks and corrections.  Instead the child's effort and work is respected as it is. The teacher, through  extensive observation and record-keeping, plans individual  projects to enable  each child to learn what he needs in order to improve.

Teaching Ratio - 1:1 and 1:30+  
Except for infant/toddler groups (Ratio dictated by local social service regulations), the teaching ratio is one trained Montessori  teacher and one non-teaching aide to 30+ children. Rather than lecturing to large or small groups of children, the teacher is trained to teach one child at a time, and to oversee thirty or more children working on a broad array of tasks. She is facile in the basic lessons of math, language, the arts and sciences, and in guiding a child's research and exploration, capitalizing on his  interest in and excitement about a subject. The teacher does not  make  assignments or dictate what to study or read, nor does she set a limit as to how far a child follows an interest.

Basic lessons:  
The Montessori teacher spends a lot of time during teacher training practicing the many lessons with materials in all areas. She must pass a written and oral exam on these lessons in order to be certified. She is trained to recognize a child's readiness according to age, ability, and interest  in a specific lesson, and is prepared to guide individual progress.

Areas of study:  
All subjects are interwoven, not taught in isolation, the teacher modeling a "Renaissance" person of broad interests for the children. A child can work on any material he understands at any time.

Class size: 
Except for infant/toddler groups, the most successful classes are of 25-30 children to one teacher (who is very well trained for the level she  is teaching), with one teaching assistant. This is possible because the children stay in the same group for three to six years and much of the teaching comes from the children and the environment.

Learning styles: 
All kinds of intelligences and styles of learning are nurtured: musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, intuitive,  and the traditional linguistic and logical-mathematical (reading, writing, and  math). This particular model is backed up by Harvard psychologist Howard  Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences.

There are no grades, or other forms of reward or punishment, subtle or overt. Assessment is by portfolio and the teacher's observation and record keeping. The test of whether or not the system is working lies in the accomplishment and behavior of the children, their happiness, maturity, kindness, and love of learning and level of work.

Requirements for age 0-6 
There are no academic requirements for this age, but children are exposed to amazing amounts of knowledge and often learn to read, write and calculate beyond what is usually thought interesting to a child of this age.

Requirements for ages 6-18  
The teacher remains alert to the interests of each child and 
facilitates individual research in following interests. There are no curriculum requirements except those set by the state, or college entrance requirements, for specific grade levels. These take a minimum amount of time. From age six on, students design contracts with the teacher to guide their required work, to balance their general work, and to teach them to become responsible for their own time management and education. The work of the 6+ class includes subjects usually not introduced until high school or college.

Character education: 
Education of character is considered equally with academic 
education, children learning to take care of themselves, their environment, each other - cooking, cleaning, building, gardening, moving gracefully, speaking politely, being considerate and helpful, doing social work in the community, etc.


General Questions

Q. What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education? 
A.  Montessori emphasizes learning through all five senses, not just through  listening, watching, or reading. Children in Montessori classes learn  at their  own, individual pace and according to their own choice of activities from  hundreds of possibilities. Learning is an exciting process of discovery, leading  to concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning. Montessori classes place children in three-year age groups (3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and so on), forming communities in which the older children spontaneously share their knowledge with the younger ones. Montessori represents an entirely different approach to education. 

Q. Can I do Montessori at home with my child?
A. Yes, you can use Montessori  principles of child development at home. Look at your home through your child's  eyes. Children need a sense of belonging, and they get it by participating fully  in the routines of everyday life. "Help me do it by myself" is the life theme of  the preschooler. Can you find ways for your child to participate in meal  preparation, cleaning, gardening, caring for clothes, shoes, and toys? Providing  opportunities for independence is the surest way to build your child's  self-esteem.

Q. Is Montessori good for children with learning disabilities? What about gifted children? 
A. Montessori is designed to help all children reach  their fullest potential at their own unique pace. A classroom whose children  have varying abilities is a community in which everyone learns from one another  and everyone contributes. Moreover, multiage grouping allows each child to find  his or her own pace without feeling "ahead" or "behind" in  relation to peers. 

Q. Are Montessori children successful later in life?
A. Research studies  show that Montessori children are well prepared for later life  academically,  socially, and emotionally. In addition to scoring well on standardized tests,  Montessori children are ranked above average on such criteria as following  directions, turning in work on time, listening attentively, using basic skills,  showing responsibility, asking provocative questions, showing enthusiasm for  learning, and adapting to new situations. 

Q. What special training do Montessori teachers have? 
A. As with the choice of a Montessori school for children, an adult must also exercise wisdom in choosing a teacher training course. Anyone can legally use the name  "Montessori" in describing their teacher training organization. One must be sure  the certification earned is recognized by the school where one desires to teach.
The two major organizations offering Montessori training in the  United States are the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI, with a U.S.  branch office called AMI-USA) and the American Montessori Society (AMS). Most  training centers require a bachelor's degree for admission. Training ranges from  200 to 600 pre-service contact hours and covers principles of child develop-ment  and Montessori philosophy as well as specific uses of the Montessori classroom materials. Montessori training centers can be found across North America and around the world. 
There are other courses which can help one better understand Montessori theory or which can train adults to work in certain schools.  It is important to balance the amount o time and money one can spend with the teaching opportunities desired.

Q. What materials are used? 
A. It is the philosophy and the knowledge of the  teacher that is essential in the success of a Montessori class. The  "sensorial," math, and some of the language and cultural materials (metal  insets, sandpaper letters, puzzle maps, bells, for example) are professionally  manufactured according to traditional standards that have been tested over many  years. 
However even some of these are made by newer companies that do not fully  understand the reason for certain details and so produce materials that are not  as successful. 
AMI Montessori schools, for very good reasons, make many of their own practical life and language material instead of buying them—as they learn to do in their training, depending on where in the world they live. They gather practical life materials piece by piece. 
This is an important process that gives  a unique quality to each classroom that expresses the culture, and ideas of  beauty in each community—instead of all classrooms looking alike with no personal touches.
Materials in the classroom, without being used correctly by a trained teacher, are usually worthless in creating a real Montessori class, but they can help in some ways in non-Montessori situations. 
For example the math materials have been used to teach a concept sensorially thus helping a child to make the abstraction.
Educational materials in the Montessori method serve a very different purpose than in traditional education where the text books are ordered and the teacher  learns how to use them. 
This difference is because in Montessori the child  learns from the environment, and it is the teacher's job to put the child in  touch with the environment, not to "teach" the child. 
Thus the creation of the  environment, and selection of materials is done mostly by the teacher and  is  very important. In Montessori education having too many materials is often worse  than not having enough. In this country (USA) there are many materials suppliers, unfortunately, who are not Montessori trained and do not understand the purpose of materials, and who sell items that scatter the child's energy, or  waste time, clutter the environment, etc. 
It is very important to choose carefully when selecting materials for using the Montessori method of education in school or in the home.