What is Montessori?

Montessori is designed to give a child all the tools she or he needs in life in order to succeed by him or herself. It encourages confidence, independence and curiosity through self-directed games and collaborative play. Montessori children make creative choices in order to complete these games and activities.

They play in groups and individually with games designed for them to discover and explore the world and to develop to their maximum potential.

This makes Montessori activities ideal for children from 0 – 6 years old. Young children learn whilst playing with and manipulating objects in their surroundings. Montessori games make excellent use of this fact. They are designed to be self-correcting so that while a child plays with a game they will unconsciously learn something at the same time.

Montessori teachers, also known as guides, help to stimulate the child’s enthusiasm. They guide them through these games without interfering so that the child can discover the world for him or herself.

For more information please see our Science Behind Montessori article.

A Montessori Child

Following the Montessori method is something that can be time consuming and require parents, extended family and carers to think differently about how they treat the child in their care.

Here are some points we think are important to consider when you decide to have a Montessori child.

1) Routine

Routine helps children to learn new skills, feel secure and develop confidence. Our brains require repetition in order to strengthen the connections between neurons in a process known as Long Term Potentiation. At the neuronal level, it is widely accepted that neurons that fire together, wire together. Dr. Montessori saw children as scientists. They make predictions about what will happen in the world around them and often perform experiments based on their predictions, for example, if I drop my spoon on the floor, mummy will pick it up. At some point, their prediction will not meet with the reality in front of them. This creates a mismatch signal in the brain. This is normal and important for children in order for them to understand the world around them and develop limits, but it can cause distress for the child.

When children face many situations in which their prediction does not meet reality, they can begin to lose confidence, both in themselves (and their ability to predict) and adults around them.

For this reason routine is important, particularly for young, non-verbal children. As children get older they are better able to understand changes and communicate their anxieties.

For this reason we feel it is important that children who attend our center, do so every day and enter and leave during the assigned times. We keep mealtimes, nap times and playtimes regular. We do not have high numbers of interns so that children form close relationships with the adults that look after them.

2) Autonomy

As children grow up we expect them to become more autonomous and through this, more responsible for themselves, their belongings, their time and eventually their results at school or in the workplace. However, as parents, it is often difficult to imagine that this cute little baby will eventually study in a school, take final exams and get a job in the workplace.

Scientists have shown that babies and young children have features which erouse feelings of care, warmth and protection in adults. We see young babies and children and we want to look after them and protect them. This is vital for their survival, because they are not physically capable of doing so themselves. However, eventually this little baby will need to be autonomous and this is not a process that happens over night. We are only just beginning to understand the importance of the preschool years in terms of shaping the child’s personality later in life.

Dr. Montessori taught us that “children are as independent as you expect them to be”. Therefore, we need to take care to ensure that we have the right expectations for our child in terms of autonomy and responsibility. If our expectations are too high, we risk leaving our child feeling incompetent because they are expected to do something they are not developmentally able to, or at worse they feel abandoned. At the same time, if we set our expectations too low, we risk our child interpreting this as a message of incompetence, “you can’t do it, so I will do it for you”. The latter creates a child who feels that they need a special service.

Having expectations for your child are important, but we need to ensure these are balanced and also change as the child grows. As Jane Nelson said, “Children feel better when they do better”, and it is important to notice in this sentence that they must “do”. This does not relate to praise from an adult, but a feeling of accomplishment.

In our center, we encourage children to be as autonomous as possible given their stage of development, and we ask that parents support this at home. This may be that your 13 month toddler helps to put the velcro across his shoe, or that your 4 year old selects their clothes and dresses themselves. Parents need to be aware that this may take longer and that they need to adjust their schedule accordingly, in order to have the necessary patience to support their child in his or her development.

3) Freedom within Limits

A common misconception of the Montessori method is that children get to do whatever they want in a Montessori environment. This is simply not the case. There are a series of strict rules that children must learn when they enter the environment and these are enforced by the Guides and Assistants.

Firstly, children can only use materials if they have received a presentation beforehand from a Guide, and they can only use them as presented. This ensures that the child knows how to use the material correctly and that the Guide has a good idea of the child’s progress in the environment. Outside of this, it also helps children to develop impulse control, as they cannot pick up any of the “toys” or materials they see around them and simply play, and understand that materials have a purpose and must be cared for and respected.

Dr. Montessori believed that a child’s concentration is precious. This is a fundamental point within a Montessori environment and children are taught from the start that they cannot interrupt another child nor a Guide who is working with a child or group of children. At the same time, children are naturally interested and learn from each other, and therefore observation is encouraged. In order to observe, children must do so quietly, at the side with their hands behind their backs.

If children stick to these limits then they can be allowed freedoms that we might not otherwise be able to give them. In traditional classrooms, children’s time is very directed. They generally spend long periods working as a class on the same subject area. In a Montessori environment, a child is free to choose their subject area, but this can only work when the limits in the environment are strictly adhered to.

For some children, adhering to these limits is easier than for others. As mentioned earlier, children do not like the error signal that their brain generates when their expectation does not match up to reality. In many circumstances this can make them very upset and cross. Therefore, it is very important that these limits are placed with respect. Positive Discipline uses the phrase kind AND firm. Too kind and we risk being passive, too firm and we risk crushing the spirit of the child.

Positive Discipline offers a very useful toolkit for parents and carers in order to help support limit setting in the home environment.

4) The preparation of the adult

We have already seen the importance of routine, autonomy, freedom and limits. As the parent of a Montessori child it often takes some personal preparation in order to be able to adjust our own schedule, beliefs and ideas in order to better support our children.

The AMI courses for Guides and Assistants not only focus on the correct use of materials, but also involve a section on the preparation of the adult. An important point in this is the observation of the child. Adults need to be able to observe the children in their care in order to determine their developmental stage and their current needs. As parents we spend a lot of time doing things, helping children get dressed or undress, preparing dinner, taking children to different activities, tidying up etc. It can be difficult to find the time to sit down and simply observe what our children are doing and how they are doing it. What do they find easy? What frustrates them? Do they really enjoy what they are doing or are they going through the motions? Who are they playing with in the park and in what way?

Aside from this, parents are encouraged to attend meetings and informational afternoons and evenings with Guides in order to better understand how their children are learning and how to support them.

For parents interested in Positive Discipline, we offer evening and weekend courses which help parents to feel more prepared to deal with life’s ups and downs.

Positive Discipline

When we hear the term Positive Discipline, it may sound almost contrary to the Montessori approach. Afterall, discipline normally conjures up ideas of strict parenting, perhaps punishment. However, if we consider a different meaning of the word discipline, as suggested by Cambridge Dictionary; “the ability to control yourself or other people, even in difficult situations”, we begin to get closer to the reason why we feel that Positive Discipline is the ideal toolkit for a any parent, but particularly a Montessori Parent.

Positive Discipline was developed by Jane Nelson as a way to help children and teenagers develop into responsible and respectful adults. In actual

fact, many parents who complete a Positive Discipline course, quickly realise that the person who is actually changing during the course is the parent, and through them, the child.

Positive Discipline encourages parents to reassess their own thoughts and behaviours. Often we find ourselves acting on autopilot, sometimes we might hear our own parents words coming out of our mouths! This is normal but it can be counterproductive, especially when we are trying to foster respect and thoughtfulness in our child.

Positive Discipline gives parents a toolkit of strategies which they can try in different situations in order to respond differently to everyday struggles with young children. These strategies encourage parents and children to become joint problem solvers and independent thinkers, who work together to create a more harmonious living environment. We want to raise our children for the world of tomorrow, therefore we need a new approach, one of patience, thoughtfulness and respect.

For parents of non-Montessori children, Positive Discipline can be a great toolkit to allow you to help develop some of the aforementioned qualities in your family.

For more information about upcoming courses, please see out News section or email for more details.

Maria Montessori’s Timeline

The science behind Montessori

Scientific studies into the long-term impact of a Montessori education are very promising. Aside from anecdotal evidence from Sergey Brin and Larry Page, founders of Google who credited their successful collaboration to their similar experiences and educational development at Montessori preschools1, scientific research also supports the long-term benefits of a Montessori education.

A study based in Milwaukee, USA, found that children who completed their education in a Montessori school between the ages of 3 – 11, scored significantly higher on standardised tests in maths and science compared to children who received a standard education2.

In fact, studies suggest that even a short spell in a Montessori environment at age four can have long-lasting benefits, particularly for boys3.

Montessori and Neuroscience

Our understanding of the brain has come a long way in the last 100 years, since Maria Montessori developed her educational method. Can this knowledge help us to understand why the Montessori method helps children learn?

Perceived Control and Learning

Montessori education is often confused with other types of alternative centres and preschools, many of which do not follow set curricula or require students to complete classwork. Therefore, it is important to be clear that students following the Montessori curriculum do not spend their days playing and doing whatever they like. The Montessori curriculum provides clear activities that cover the same subject areas as traditional curricula. Students must complete these activities, and the classroom teacher or “guide” carefully monitors their progress. However, they are more free than students in traditional schools to choose when to do this. They can decide that Friday afternoon is not the time when they want to do Maths, or that they would like to have a break to talk quietly with a friend. The teacher carefully monitors this and students are encouraged and helped to complete activities if they are struggling to work.

This is designed to give students a feeling of control over their learning. Students are not free to do what they want but they can decide between various options. This decision is extremely important for giving students the feeling of control, something that has been repeatedly shown to be pivotal in the learning process4.

Movement and Learning

Like Jean Piaget, a very influential and important child psychologist, Maria Montessori believed that during infancy children’s mental development is reliant on movement or action. She believed that encouraging infants to move and interact with the world around them would improve their mental development. More traditional educational models do not allow for a great deal of movement, as much of the educating is done by a teacher in front of a large group of students who need to concentrate on the teacher and normally this requires them to be still. Studies of movement during the school day show that children in Montessori preschools spend more time moving around that those in traditional preschools5.

Studies suggest that encouraging movement from a very young age can be beneficial. Babies who are able to interact with objects from an early age and are encouraged to grasp or use tools, such as Velcro mittens to bring objects closer to them, are capable of attending to objects in a wider space around them, compared to infants who are not given this opportunity. Even very young (3 month old) infants who were encouraged to interact with their environment were more likely to recognise other people’s actions as having a purpose6. This finding is supported by studies of the brain that have found the existence of mirror neurons in the premotor cortex. These neurons activate when a subject completes a particular action and when the subject watches the same action being completed7. The aforementioned study using Velcro mittens suggests that babies tend to develop the ability to complete a goal directed action (such as reaching and grasping an object) at about the same time that they are able to see this action as being goal directed when watching another person. Therefore, it seems logical to assume that encouraging babies and children to interact with their environment will help them to learn at a faster rate than if they were just observing.

Executive Functions and Montessori

Executive Functions enable us to mentally play with ideas. They allow us to take time to think before acting when we encounter new and unexpected challenges. They help us to resist temptations around us and remain focused on our goal. Executive functions are related to a family of cerebrospinal mental processes, the flow of which are needed for concentration and attention in situations where the use of our “autopilot”, instincts or intuition would be insufficient or impossible.

There is general agreement that the main executive functions can be classified into three categories: inhibition, working memory and cognitive flexibility. It is increasingly believed that these functions are vital for success in school and life to such an extent that those with poorly developed executive function may be misdiagnosed as having ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or other learning difficulties.

The term Executive Functions was not around when Dr. Montessori completed her studies into how children learn. However, a Montessori education helps to develop executive functions in many ways. Montessori centers only have one example of any particular activity; meaning children must learn to wait. The activities are conducted on low desks or mats on the floor, so that children must walk from the shelving unit to the desk or the mat, through a maze of other children’s work in order to collect a new piece. In doing so, the pupils develop their working memory and have to avoid becoming distracted by what others are doing. Added to which, most of the activities are used frequently over time with new tasks being introduced or combined with other activities. Children also work together or teach each other, all of which aid their cognitive flexibility. In fact, studies suggest that 5 year olds who had attended a Montessori preschool showed greater cognitive flexibility than those who had attended standard preschools8

Time Management and Satisfaction

School days can feel long, particularly when evenings are filled with homework activities or studying for tests and exams. In Montessori schools, homework is typically limited. Dr. Montessori believed that it would not make sense to dictate what a child must do at home if it is not dictated in school. As we have seen so far Montessori students typically meet, if not excel at, the achievements of their peers and this in spite of a no homework policy. Interestingly, studies have found that students in Montessori schools spend more of their time on school related activities than students in traditional schools, who tend to spend more school time on leisure activities and socialising. Perhaps even more surprising is the finding that students in Montessori schools are more likely to see their classmates as friends than students in traditional schools. Montessori students also report feeling more energetic and interested in school than do students at traditional schools9.

Dr. Montessori created a child centred curriculum based on scientific observation. She moved the emphasis away from the teacher teaching and instead focused on developing an environment that helps the child to learn through a process of discovery and self-correction. Current scientific studies support the original work of Dr. Montessori and give us a better understanding as to why her curriculum can be so beneficial in enabling students to master skills and above all, develop a life-long passion for learning and innovation.


“Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.” – Maria Montessori.
______________________________________________________________________ ↩
Dohrmann, K. R. (2007). Outcomes for students in a Montessori program. Rochester, NY: Association Montessori International/USA: Retrieved July, 8, 2007 ↩
Lillard, A. S. (2005). Montessori: The science behind the genius. Oxford University Press. Page 35. ↩
Allen, R. & Waldman, C. (2010). High-Five Teaching, K-5: Using Green Light Strategies to Create Dynamic, Student-Focused Classrooms. Corwin ↩
Pate, R. R., O’Neill, J. R., Byun, W., McIver, K. L., Dowda, M., & Brown, W. H. (2014). Physical Activity in Preschool Children: Comparison Between Montessori and Traditional Preschools. Journal of School Health, 84(11), 716-721. ↩ ↩
Kandel, E. R. (2013). Principles of neural science. New York: McGraw-Hill. ↩
Lillard, N. Else-Quest,Science 313, 1893 (2006). ↩
“Overview of Research on Montessori Education: An Evidence-Based Curriculum“, taken from Accessed on Friday 12 June 15 ↩


Go to Top