The Montessori Theory of Education


With the vast array of today’s schools offering a specialised education, how do parents choose which model of education is the most suitable for your child? Typically, it is either the one they had or the one they wished they had. This first instalment of our series looks at one of the most popular pedagogic approaches from a pre-primary level. Developed by the Italian pedagogue Maria Montessori and her son, Mario, from the early- to mid-20th Century, Montessori education has similarities to developmental psychology, the branch of psychology aimed at expanding and researching how humans transform throughout their lives. However, it is based primarily on constructivism, the idea that humans develop both understanding and significance by correlating their daily experiences with their individual thoughts; in simpler terms, relating theory to practice. The method rests on two fundamental tenants: relating children and adolescents with their surroundings, thereby developing their psychological self-construction, and exploiting the knowledge that children have an intuitive, a priori path of psychological growth.

What is the Montessori theory of education?

As a form of experiential learning, the Montessori approach implements several features fundamental to each phase of human development and the manner in which the articulation of these human tendencies is assisted by tailoring education. The features are abstraction, activity, communication, exactness, exploration, environmental manipulation, order, orientation, repetition, self-perfection, and purposeful activity (or work). Special emphasis on the surroundings enables children to become autonomous in relation to their individual psychological development. Such an environment includes: an arrangement aiding activity and movement; a clean environment that also promotes beauty and harmony; building surroundings that are consistent with the child’s needs; restricted use of special Montessori materials that only assist the child’s development (nothing superfluous); establishing an order; and the inclusion of nature both in- and outside the classroom.

Central to the Montessori approach is the realisation of four unique human development phases: the first begins from birth to the age of six, the second from the age of six to twelve, the third from 12 to 18, and the fourth from 18 to 24. Each of these phases contain dissimilar attributes, styles of learning, and necessities and, thus, require a dissimilar pedagogic approach to each phase. The most crucial, of course, is the first phase, where a child undergoes stark physio-psychological growth. The child uses his, or her, senses to explore and learn about the immediate surroundings, which helps in constructing identity, the concept of self, and the ability to function independently. The following three concepts further elucidate this.

The Absorbent Mind, Sensitive Periods, and Normalisation

In the first phase, a young child’s ability to incorporate their environment’s sensory influence seamlessly, such as culture, language, and other stimuli, is unique to this phase and subsequently weakens. Furthermore, there are distinct stages in which the child is receptive towards a certain stimulus over another.

Maria Montessori termed these as “sensitive periods” and her pedagogic approach advises changes within the classroom environment, making available certain feasible activities and materials, to react to these periods, which are illustrated by the following diagram.

Montessori-DiagramFrom the age of three to six, “normalisation” develops due to child’s ability to focus engage in tasks for an extended period and display empathy for others, which supplies the developmental requirements of the child.

Educational Practices in Preschools

At the “primary” level, a characteristic Montessori classroom has 20 to 30 children between the ages of 2½ to 6 under a trained teacher and an assistant and contains either isolated or small clusters of child-sized chairs and tables. Shelves of child-height contain class materials, enabling the child to pick and perform a task he or she desires after the teacher presents the options in the beginning. Typically, the materials spur the physical skills of the child, with activities such as pouring and spooning, and develop materials for art, language, math, music, and sensory development, among others.

With this brief description of the Montessori pedagogic approach, parents can make significantly more informed decisions regarding the education of their child. This form of experiential learning has found worldwide renown, with the children becoming curious and naturally adapting to formal primary schooling.


  • Grazzini, Camillo (Jan–Feb 1988). “The Four Planes of Development: A Constructive Rhythm of Life”. Montessori Today 1(1): 7–8.
  • Montessori, Maria (1967). The Absorbent Mind. New York: Delta.
  • Montessori, Maria (1994). From Childhood to Adolescence. Oxford, England: ABC-Clio. pp. 7–16
  • Montessori, Mario (1966). The Human Tendencies and Montessori Education. Amsterdam: Association Montessori Internationale.


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