What is the Montessori Educational Approach?

The Montessori method views the child as the one who is naturally eager for knowledge.

Maria Montessori developed the Montessori Method of Education which has been widely known and popular in publications since 1912. Based on scientific observations, the Montessori method views the child as the one who is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared environment. The Montessori approach encourages a child to seek and naturally develop interests and engage in activities rather than use formal teaching methods. Thus, Montessori classrooms and home environments are structured for self-directed and collaborative play with hands-on learning. Teachers, parents, and nannies offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process.

How is Montessori Difference from Traditional Education?

  • The teachers, parents, and nanny’s roles differ with the Montessori method. Instead of teaching lessons and managing the schedule, Montessori teachers act as guides and consultants. Often working with students one-on-one, Montessori teachers assist each child with their learning path. One student may be building a volcano while another student may be reading a book.
  • Montessori programs focus on “constructivist” or “discovery” where students learn concepts from working with natural materials rather than by direct instruction. Materials are organized by subject area and within reach of the child. Students can choose activities from a range of options.
  • Mixed aged classrooms are common in a Montessori program with children between 2.5 to 6 often sharing space while traditional classrooms are segmented by age.
  • Montessori classrooms are not time-bound and children can work on lessons for as long as 3 hours without interruptions while traditional classrooms schedule specific time intervals for reading, music, nap, and science.
  • In a Montessori program, grade levels are flexible and determined by the child’s developmental range while traditional schools often have defined common core skills for each specified grade level.

According to Maria Montessori, “The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult.” Creating a “prepared environment” is core to the Montessori approach to education*. Montessori environments are specific to the characteristics of children at different ages and the individual personalities of each child and should exhibit the following 6 characteristics:

  • Freedom. The environment facilitates movement and activity.
  • Structure and order. The environment limits materials to only those needed for the child’s development.
  • Beauty. The environment is beautiful, harmonious, and clean.
  • Nature. The environment includes nature inside and outside of the classroom with real wood, bamboo, metal, cotton, glass, and no plastic or synthetic materials.
  • Social. The environment is proportioned to the children and allows children to work in groups and develop a sense of compassion and empathy for others.
  • Intellectual. The environment develops the whole personality in accordance with the 5 areas in the Montessori curriculum (Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics, and Cultural).

The Montessori education method is divided into four distinct periods or “planes”. Each plane has different characteristics, learning modes and developmental objectives. The first is birth through age 6 which focuses on sensory exploration with the acquisition of language, interest in small objects, and development of social behaviors. The second plane, age 6 to age 12, matches the physical and psychological growth of children with a focus on “herd instinct” or the tendency to work and socialize in groups. The third plane, ages 12 to 18, aligns with puberty, acknowledging “valorization” or the adolescent drive for external validation. The fourth plan, ages 18 to 24, is not as well defined as Montessori wrote very little about this period, but it includes adults who are able to achieve economic independence and fully embrace the culture and sciences in order to influence and lead civilization.

Whether working with a family or school that is implementing Montessori education or just creating environments conducive to self-directed play, children benefit from unstructured free time.

*North American Montessori Center, NAMC Montessori Teacher Training Blog. March 18, 2009.


5 Steps to Create an Educational Preschool Activity

These five steps will help you plan successful preschool activities.

Think back to the days of your childhood. What are you reminded of? Are you reflecting on times of messy play and skinned knees? These are important memories and developmental activities. So how does a Nanny or Babysitter help create engaging early childhood experiences that leave a lasting impression? These five steps will help you plan successful preschool activities:

boy sitting in sunflower field

1. Learn the child’s interests

In order for an activity to be successful, the child must be interested and engaged. Consider the child’s interests. Does the child enjoy dramatic play? Have you observed the child engaged in manipulative play such as puzzles or sorting games? Does the child engage in building with blocks or other items? Is the child always asking you to read to them? Do messy art activities keep them engaged? Is the child always asking questions about the way things work? Does the child enjoy playing with items with lots of texture or things that can be manipulated?

By understanding the child’s likes and dislikes, an activity can be created that engages their interests and incorporates areas of development or improvement specific to the individual child’s needs.

2. Consider areas of development

The areas of development include social and emotional development, physical development, language development, and cognitive development. In order to create an effective preschool activity, a child’s individual development needs to be nurtured. Where is the child at developmentally? What skills need to be practiced? This will help to determine your activity.

3. Decide if child-directed or adult-directed

A child-directed or child-centered activity is led by the child where the child engages in play with the materials or others in any way the child wishes. Alternatively, an adult-directed activity is when the adult has the say-so in the direction of the activity or how the materials for the activity will be used.

There are benefits to both child-directed and adult-directed activities. Child-directed activities enhance self-control, strengthen self-regulation skills, increase self-confidence, and improve attention span to name a few. Adult-directed activities emphasize academic concepts, specify objectives and have clear goals and expectations.

girl in ball pit

4. Get supplies needed

Does the activity require specific supplies or materials? If you do not have the exact supplies needed, can those materials be substituted for something that is readily available? Keep in mind that an activity can be planned around the materials you have readily available to you.

5. Have fun

As you set up the activity, be excited so your positive energy can be inviting to the child. If adult-directed, remember to explain and demonstrate the activity so the child knows how to play.

There are a lot of preschool activities to choose from and here are a few ideas. For children who enjoy crafts, cut out small circles and squares in a variety of colors using construction paper. Then, have the child place the circles and squares in patterns using the letters of the alphabet. This will teach the child about colors, shapes, patterns, and create a foundational understanding of letters. You can alternate between adult and child-directed so the child does one letter, and then does a design of their own.

girl reading book to stuffed animals

For children who enjoy throwing balls, you can create an indoor snowball game. Using white paper, have the child crinkle the paper into ‘snowballs’. Then, set up baskets throughout the room and practice getting points by throwing the snowball into the baskets. You can make the game more challenging with a blindfold or by standing on one leg. This game will help with gross motor skills, coordination, and balance.

For children interested in discovering new things, you can create a mystery bag. From the toy chest or the dollar store, get about 20 items and place them in a paper bag or tote bag. Have the child pull out a toy, name it and then sort it by color, size, or shape. This game will be fun as they ‘discover’ the toys while learning colors, sorting, and practice speaking.

To learn more, a PreSchool course is available with enrollment in the Intermediate Childcare program at AmsleeInstitute.com.

About the Author. Jena Paulo has a Master of Science in Education from California State University and a Bachelor of Art in Human Development from California State University. Jena is a Head Preschool teacher, Preschool Director, Online and an adjunct faculty member of Amslee Institute.