Google+ bakers and astronauts: Montessori

01 May 2010


I have never considered myself a teacher who follows one specific philosophy.  I have worked at all sorts of schools, from my first job in a "Reggio-Inspired" school to a Washington State ECEAP program to Parent Cooperatives to an International school.  No school has had a strict curriculum, but some have had some "guides" and materials.

One philosophy that I know very little about is Montessori.  It seems like such a buzzword - for example, in Brussels, the only English language preschools are Montessori, and there are dozens of them.  I have seen and worked with Montessori materials, which are often made of natural materials rather than plastic.  I know that children often work on their own with materials, which are created to be used in a particular way.

The Wikipedia page on the Montessori method is interesting, and I was stuck by this :  "Schools differ in their interpretation, practical application, and philosophy in using this method with children."  So, are parents signing their children up for Montessori education because the name "Montessori" is on the door?  Is it the same way for "Reggio-Inspired"?  And when a school posts these words on their door, what do they mean to the teachers?  What does it mean to their families?

With all of the inspiration I have found from different schools with different ideas, I still have not learned about Montessori.  Perhaps someone out there has some insights into this...what do you think?


  1. I don't know much about Montessori either, and what I do know may well be legend. In Seattle, among the parents in my school at least, there is a lot of skepticism about the moniker because, as one mom told me, "Some of them really mean it, but a lot of them just use it for marketing." I think it's hard to tell which is which from the outside looking in.

    I did spend some time studying the model in school and I generally liked what I heard. I think Maria Montessori is something of an early childhood education genius. That said, I've realized that it isn't a good match for me as a teacher. I have one family who enrolled their daughter in Montessori preschool because they felt it was a better match for her learning style, while they've kept their son with me. They're happy with their decision and I'm glad they had the options available to make it.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Tom. People want enrollment in their schools, and if a word helps increase that enrollment, and no one is sure what they are supposed to expect, then what happens?

    I am very interested in learning more about her work - she was a revolutionary in early childhood.

  3. I use Carol Garhart Mooney's book 'Theories of Childhood' a lot, and I've learned from that that Maria Montessori is the thinker who put the classroom and materials in the hands of children. It was she who said things should be low and accessible, and that children should be responsible for the use and the care of the things in their school. I think a lot of us use her theories in our classrooms and may not even be aware of it.
    As for schools, it seems to me that some I've visited are kind of strict and dogmatic, and others are 'hands on' and let children 'learn at their own pace', but don't seem to have much philosophy going on. It would be good to hear from a Montessori teacher -people are always asking the difference between the Reggio schools and Montessori, and I never know what to say.

  4. Anna, you said : "I think a lot of us use her theories in our classrooms and may not even be aware of it." I think this is why I do not feel like I follow one philosophy. There are wonderful ideas coming from so many wonderful people, especially children, and I agree that there is Montessori infulence in many classrooms. To be a Montessori school, are people following what they learned in their Montessori certification (another thing that fascinates me!), or are they simply inspired?

    I too would love to hear from a Montessori teacher.

  5. Quite a few of our teachers have been Montessori trained and are now Reggio converts :) Our community is a Montessori community and so we are the black sheep of preschools.

    Montessori offered some incredible new insights into early education - child sized space and the idea that children can choose their own work being huge, to me.

    And a lot of schools use the term now, without any understanding. However, a traditional Montessori (AMI trained, usually, or AMS) will be a very structured classroom. There are specific ways the classroom must look, specific materials the classroom must have, and only one way to use each material. Children work independently - and tend to be quite low in social-emotional and problem solving skills (I put this to the focus on the individual and lack of time to artistically express, lack of group time, and the acceptance of "only one right solution"). BUT.

    Traditional Montessori schools also have incredible child achievement in academics and social graces (please and thank you and caring for the environment). The classrooms are calm and serene and quiet and well cared for. Certain children absolutely thrive in these controlled environments.

    I think the biggest thing to remember is that the Montessori method was created for a very particular group (100 years ago, for special need groups) and if created for the world today, would not look anything like what it looks like. But, without Montessori? Where would we be now? She was the mother of so much of our current understandings about quality early education and the potential of children.

  6. Pamela, this is really wonderful insight. Like Tom and you both said, there are some children who thrive in that Montessori environment - and I think it all comes back to how each child is an individual and has their own learning style, and teachers and parents both need to be aware of those so they can best support the child. And if that means one child in one school and the other in a different one, so be it!

  7. Anonymous4.5.10

    You might enjoy looking at MacDonald Montessori School's site ( and the article they published under the Professional Development tab. They are a Montessori school that has been thoughtfully working to integrate the reggio philosophy and approach into their classrooms.

    I am a Suzuki violin teacher. The term "Suzuki" is used (or not used) by teachers in much the same way that I think "Montessori" is used. Sometimes, it is a marketing ploy. Teachers have varying degrees of interest in and understanding of the philosophy behind the curriculum. As with any philosophy, how the approach is implemented is really up to the individual teachers. At the heart of it, both Suzuki and Montessori did their work with the hope that it would help bring peace to the world.

    Here are some aspects of Montessori that I think are interesting.
    1) Knowledge is constructed by the child. Sometimes this is misconstrued to mean that there is no group work and that students fall behind in social/emotional development. However, a number of the "works" are designed for more than one child. The multiage classrooms (always 3 years) are designed so that children can teach and learn from each other. Social graces are important, but also the peaceful resolution of problems. There is not much emphasis on negotiated or socially constructed knowledge.

    2) The classroom is the children's space and environment a teacher. The materials in the classroom should be made from natural materials and be beautiful. Strictly speaking, even the teacher is a guest in the classroom so the teacher's desk and things should be elsewhere. Also, parents are not easily welcomed into the classroom. Care of the environment and the things and people in it is of utmost importance.

    3) There is a curriculum and it is divided into subjects. The curriculum is presented through specific lessons on specific, sequential "works" or activities. Then, based on a child's interests and ability, the child chooses and works on an activity until it is mastered. Children work at their own pace - no grades, or expectations to know anything by any particular time. Generally, there is a "right" way to use the materials. Most of the academic materials are designed to be self-correcting so children themselves can see/feel/hear/ask/solve/do/understand.

    4) Montessori and her children designed her curriculum to go through high school. Elementary and middle school Montessori classes have much more project oriented and group oriented work. She suggested sending middle school kids to run a farm rather than spend their days in the classroom. There are a few Montessori farm schools around. Montessori was a scientist and, I think, the first female physician in Italy. So, her method was developed through careful observation and it emphasizes inquiry and problem solving.

    5) Like many pedagogical philosophies, Montessori is intended to serve every single child. But it is up to the teacher to design the environment and focus the approach in such a way to ensure that this is the case.

    6) Art and music, I think, are generally under-used/developed in the preschool curriculum. I'm not sure why...

    Finally, I do think that Montessorians have an interest in making sure the approach evolves. There are two major associations of Montessori professionals - AMS and AMI.

    Rambling, but I hope this helps. Ingrid

  8. Hi Guys! I have really enjoyed reading this conversation - so many of my favourites in one space.

  9. Ingrid, I really appreciate your input. You certainly seem to have experience with the Montessori system, and an understanding of some of the underlying principles. I'm looking forward to reading the article you linked to - it is interesting that the school is called "Montessori", yet they have been exploring the Reggio approach for 10 years.

    I'm hoping to do more reading on the subject, and perhaps do some observations in classrooms, too. Like I said, every English language preschool in Brussels is "Montessori". I hope to see one here, and maybe one in Paris this summer as well.

    Want to go on a little field trip, Jolayne?

  10. Anonymous7.5.10

    I learned a it about Montessori in my grad program but have always felt that there must be a wide range of implementation in schools because what I hear from parents about their experience with Montessori programs is varied. I picked up a copy of The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori at a book sale because I have always wanted to have a better understanding. It is on the top of my summer reading pile.

  11. Now that I think of it, one of my Undergraduate education classes met at Westside Montessori (, but it looks like their website is under construction). The classroom settings were natural and child friendly - everything was at the children's level. And I think that reading a book by Montessori herslef would be the ideal thing for me to do also - just like reading "The Hundred Languages of Children" was more informative than "Working in the Reggio Way".

  12. I explored Montessori preschools from a parent's perspective when my own children were small. I loved so many things, but the bottom line was that I was not welcome there, and I wasn't comfortable putting my child into an environment in which I couldn't share at all. So I chose co-ops. We had great experiences there. I think my dream preschool would take the community feel of the co-op, the emphasis on independent thinking and skill-building from Montessori, the child-led curriculum and emphasis on expression in many media from Reggio, the natural materials and low-tech playthings of Waldorf, and lots of outdoor time inspired by the Forest Schools. Yeah, that sounds pretty great.

  13. You've described the ideal, Launa. And that is exactly what I mean when I say that I don't follow one school of thought - there are wonderful bits and pieces all over.

    Parent involvement is something that teachers and schools could debate about forever - how long, how often, in what context, etc. I have taught in a co-op, and I thought it was a wonderful experience. Right now, we welcome parents whenever they want to come in, but we do not have a lot of takers this year on that offer.

    I wonder what the idea is behind the parents not being part of the classroom community - and I wonder what the differences are between the different Montessori programs - AMI and AMS - on that plane, if there are differences at all.


Thanks so much for joining the conversation!

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