Flow of Ideas


A Report on the Montessori Method. An assignment for ‘Adventures in Educational Theory & Practice’, module EDU3028, Education Studies, School of Education, University of Northampton

Jonathan France

30th November 2010

Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment (Montessori, 1989).

Brief Biography

Maria Montessori was born in Chiaravalle, in the province of Ancona, on 31st August 1870. Her father, Allesandro Montessori, was a retired soldier and civil servant who rose to the rank of ‘Cavaliere’ [1] and was traditional and conservative by nature (Kramer, 1976). Her mother, Renilde Stoppani Montessori, was from a wealthy middle-class academic family. In 1894, Maria became the first Italian medical doctor[2], after insisting on continuing school after her compulsory period, and: ‘[t]his decision required some courage, because of society's views on women's education’ (Kramer, 1976, introduction). This was even more remarkable when one considers the fact that universal suffrage was only granted in Italy in 1945.

It was her work after her graduation in which her philosophy was developed and polished. Being made by her mother to do good works for the poor [3], Montessori then worked with mentally and physically handicapped children and schooled them to a level sometimes equal to able-bodied students. This directly led to the formation of her influential ‘Casa Dei Bambini’ (Children’s House) in 1906, which was an institution that observed every level of child development: physically, environmentally, and psychologically [4] (Montessori, 1914). This method was documented in her ‘Handbook’ (Montessori, 1912 & 1914) and led to her worldwide recognition in the realm of education, particularly in the United States [5].

Montessori’s method conflicted with the general ideas of John Dewey (1859-1952) who developed educational ideas that were community and democratically orientated; therefore, for Dewey, education was for the common good (Smith 2001). Indeed, in 1914 William Heard Kilpatrick, a student of Dewey’s, scathingly attacked Montessori and her method (Smith, 2005), calling it a ‘derivative of Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Froebel’ and that it lacked the value of experience (ibid.). However the value of science in education is shared by Dewey and Montessori; indeed as Smith (2005) states ‘[t]hey both saw the great changes produced by science, and were eager to apply its method to understanding humanity’.

The inter-war years (1918-1939) saw Montessori expand her philosophy and method throughout Europe, opening institutes and teacher training centres in places such as Holland and Great Britain. By the start of World War II Montessori, together with her son Marion, was developing her educational theory for India[6], but as she was Italian she was interned, as were all citizens of the Axis in the Allied countries. However she was permitted to continue with her work by training teachers from the camp (Pendleton, 2010).

After being nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace three times Montessori died in Holland on the 6th May 1952.

Montessori Method

The ‘Montessori Method’ is based around education of the five human senses, together with psychological and psychometric observations and evaluations. On this basis, children are given the freedom to learn (Montessori, 1913, p.72). The physiological learning of the senses takes place in a carefully planned environment, with detailed equipment that is a direct descendant of the ‘Froebel Gifts’ (Montessori 1914, p.20). Indeed, the concept of the ‘children’s house’ has a direct scientific link to the ‘kindergarten’ of Froebel. However, the liberty that children enjoy with Dr. Montessori’s method is a departure from the more disciplined environment that Froebel describes (Holmes, 1912). This sensory approach to learning echoes the philosophy of Rousseau, where he suggests one can ‘[s]timulate a desire to learn in children and no other method or gimmick will be required’ (in Kirkpatrick 2008, p.51). As Smith (2005) states: ‘Montessori can be best understood as involving the biology of the individual, with a process of creating a bridge from the proclivities of the student to his developing inner culture’ (p.1).

Similar to Rousseau’s stages of child development, Montessori believed that learning happens in ‘planes’ [7] of development; each of which should have a prepared environment, because, as Montessori states: ‘the successive levels of education must conform to the successive personalities of the child’ (Montessori, 1967, p.18).

Given that this psychological and physical approach are core to the method, it is important for Montessori that ‘children are children’, and that the concept of play is important to discovering the world, and therefore this is where learning occurs (Kramer 1976, p.374). As Montessori (1913) observes, a small child is naturally using all motor functions in order to imitate others, and play helps to develop the skills that are necessary to develop into a functioning member of society (p.18).

Finally it is also very important for Montessori that all the learning is achieved through an environment that promotes positive re-enforcement of discovery. By this it is meant that Montessori indicated that discipline should be kept out of the development process. Indeed, as she states (Montessori, 1967): ‘[n]o work may be imposed – no threats, no rewards, no punishments. The teacher must be quiet and passive’ (p.263). However, the teacher would need the experience, or access to someone with experience, in order to help the process of discovery (ibid.).

Contemporary Relevance

One only has to search any well known web based search engine to discover how popular Montessori is today. There are over 6000 Montessori schools in the USA [8] (AMI 2010), over 600 in the United Kingdom (Guardian, 2006) and across the globe there are many thousands.

Much research is still being conducted into the psychological and educational benefits to the Montessori Method, some suggesting that children become ‘significantly more creative’ upon following it in educational settings (Ibid.). Furthermore, Montessori schools are becoming an increasing part of the mainstream educational system in England. For instance, in Manchester in 2005 a new Montessori Secondary School opened in the state sector (Bawden, 2005). This shows that, despite some criticism, there is a significant space for Montessori Education in the 21st Century.


[1] Equivalent to a British Knighthood (Kramer 1976, p.22).

[2] First female Doctor of Philosophy – Helena Lucretia Cornaro Piscopia (Italy) 1678, First female medical doctor – Dr Elizabeth Blackwell (GB) 1849.

[3] A young Montessori was encouraged to knit for the poor (Kramer 1976).

[4] Psychology being a new science after Wilhelm Wundt first recognised it in 1879 (Kim 2006).

[5] Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel founded the Montessori Educational Association in 1913. Thomas Edison was also a supporter (Webster.edu, und.).

[6] Then part of the British Empire.

[7] 0-6 years – early childhood; 7-12 – childhood; 13-18 adolescence; 18-24+ - adulthood and beyond (Pendleton 2010).

[8] In the USA any school can call itself ‘Montessori’ without having to follow the method (AMI 2010).


AMI (2010) ‘Montessori School Locator’. Available online from: http://amiusa.org/ami-schools/montessori-school-locator [Accessed on 27th November 2010].

Bawden, A. (2005) ‘First Montessori State School Opens’, The Guardian, 7th September 2005. Available online from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2005/sep/07/schools.uk2 [Accessed on 27th November 2010].

Guardian, The (2006) ‘Research shows benefits of Montessori education’, The Guardian 29th September. Available online from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2006/sep/29/schools.uk [Accessed on 27th November 2010].

Holmes, H.W. (1912) ‘Introduction’, to The Montessori Method: Scientific Pedagogy as Applied to Cild Education in “The Children’s Houses” with Additions and Revisions by the Author, by M. Montessori, Second Edition, Trans. A.E. Everett George, New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, online at: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/montessori/method/method.html [Accessed on 22nd November 2010].

Kim, A. (2006) ‘Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt’. Available online from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/wilhelm-wundt/ [accessed on 23rd November 2010].

Kirkpatrick, J. (2008) ‘Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism: Educational Theory for a Free Market in Education’, Claremont: TLJ.

Kramer, R. (1976) ‘Maria Montessori: A Biography’, New York: Putnam.

Montessori, M. (1912) ‘The Montessori Method’, New York: Stokes. Available online from: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/montessori/method/method.html [Accessed 11th November 2010].

Montessori, M. (1914) ‘Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook’, New York: Stokes. Available online from: http://books.google.co.uk/ [Accessed 15th November 2010].

Montessori, M. (1967) ‘The Absorbent Mind’, Madras: Kalakshetra.
br> Montessori, M. (1989) ‘Education for a New World’, Oxford: ABC Clio.

Pendleton, D.R. (2010) ‘Maria Montessori: A Brief Biography’, Available online from: http://www.montessori-namta.org/maria-montessori [Accessed 11th November 2010].

Smith, D.R. (2005) ‘The Egg-Man and the Empress’. Available online from: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4097/is_200507/ai_n15615284/ [Accessed on 22nd November 2010].

Smith, M.K. (2001) ‘John Dewey’. Available online from http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-dewey.htm [Accessed on 22nd November 2010].

Webster.edu (undated) ‘Maria Montessori’. Available online from: http://www.webster.edu/~woolflm/montessori2.html [Accessed on 23rd November 2010].

© Jonathan France, Northampton, 17th July 2011

© Copyright, Flow of Ideas, Ruth Rikowski and Glenn Rikowski. Website by [whiteLayer]
Call for Authors
Printer Friendly
Order by DateAlphabetical[Close menu]