Montessori education, a widespread, proven model with more than one hundred years of implementation behind it, is practiced in tens of thousands of schools, with hundreds of thousands of children, from birth to eighteen, on six continents. Montessori rests on fundamental observations about human behavior and a detailed model of human development and educational practices based on the model.
The fundamental principles of Montessori education are simple and straightforward:
- Children choose their work. A century of experience as well as recent research show that, given the appropriate environment, choices, support, and respect, children will engage with, concentrate on, and master a range of life skills and academic content typically far surpassing local requirements.
- A prepared environment. The classroom and outdoor environments, and the Montessori materials, are designed to support children’s curiosity, learning, and independence.
- A prepared adult. A year-long course of specialized training in child development, Montessori education theory, and use of the materials prepares the adult to guide children’s natural development.
- Children learn and develop differently at different ages. Montessori observed distinct periods of development from birth to age six, six to twelve, twelve to eighteen, and beyond, and the Montessori approach is tailored to the child’s self-constructive drives during each period.
There are about 5,000 Montessori schools in the U.S. (of which about 500 are public programs). Schools range in size from single classrooms of just a handful of young children to hundreds of children from toddlers through high school. The term “Montessori” is not copyrighted or trademarked, so a wide range of practices can be found in schools with Montessori in the name. Some schools participate in validation processes offered through various Montessori organizations. More fully implemented Montessori programs generally have a number of characteristics in common.
Children are typically grouped in mixed-age classrooms such as these:
- six months to walking age
- sixteen months to two and a half or three years
- two and a half or three to six
- six to nine (first to third grade)
- nine to twelve years (fourth to sixth grade)
- twelve to fifteen (middle school)
- fifteen to eighteen (high school)
Class sizes are often larger than in conventional models, with groups of 25 to 30 at the three to six year old level, and 30 to 40 at in elementary classrooms. Montessori children in mixed-age classrooms generally require less ‘classroom management’, and large groups offer greater opportunities for independence and a wider range of choices of activity.
Montessori classrooms are designed to support children’s development and independence at various stages of life, and emphasize beauty, order, and simplicity. Classrooms are typically equipped with a set of age-appropriate Montessori materials.
Montessori education covers a very broad range of academic content and skills, typically extending beyond what is expected of most children conventional schooling. Young children develop literacy, numeracy, and cultural knowledge, as well as “soft skills” such as self-regulation, concentration, and attention, through adult-guided, child-driven interactions with the Montessori materials. Elementary aged children explore ideas and construct knowledge across a wide and thorough range of study and experience.