top of page

Montessori 101

Montessori Basics for Parents

By Tim Seldin

What makes Montessori different? 

The Montessori approach is often described as an "education for life." When we try to define what children take away from their years in Montessori, we need to expand our vision to include more than just the basic academic skills.

Normally, Americans think of a school as a place where one generation passes down basic skills and culture to the next. From this perspective, a school only exists to cover a curriculum, not to develop character and self-esteem. But in all too many traditional and highly competitive schools, students memorize facts and concepts with little understanding, only to quickly forget them when exams are over.

Recent studies show that many bright students are passive learners. They coast through school, earning high grades, but rarely pushing themselves to read material that hasn't been assigned, ask probing questions, challenge their teacher's cherished opinions, or think for themselves. They typically want teachers to hand them the "right answer." The problem isn't with today's children, but with today's schools. Children are as gifted, curious, and creative as they ever were, when they're working on something that captures their interest and which they have voluntarily chosen to explore.

Montessori schools work to develop culturally literate children and nurture their fragile sparks of curiosity, creativity, and intelligence. They have a very different set of priorities from traditional schools, and a very low regard for mindless memorization and superficial learning. Montessori students may not memorize as many facts, but they do tend to become self-confident, independent thinkers who learn because they are interested in the world and enthusiastic about life, not simply to get a good grade.

Montessori believed that there was more to life than simply the pursuit of wealth and power. To her, finding one's place in the world, work that is meaningful and fulfilling, and developing the inner peace and depth of soul that allows us to love are the most important goals in life.

The Children's House 

Montessori Schools Are Based on the Principles of Respect and Independence

Montessori Teaches Children to Think and Discover for Themselves 

The Importance of Freedom of Movement and Independently Chosen Work

A Carefully Prepared Environment 

 The Montessori Curriculum 

The Montessori Materials: A Road from the Concrete to the Abstract 

Montessori classes are made up of a two- or three-year age span 

A Different Daily Schedule 

Days are not divided into fixed time periods for each subject. Teachers call students together as they are ready for lessons individually or in small groups. A typical day's work is divided into "fundamentals" that have been assigned by the faculty and self-initiated projects and research selected by the student. Students work to complete their assignments at their own pace - typically with care and enthusiasm. Teachers closely monitor their students' progress, keeping the level of challenge high. Teacher feedback to students and parents helps students learn how to pace themselves and take a great deal of personal responsibility for their studies, both of which are essential for later success in college and in life.

We encourage students to work together collaboratively, and many assignments can only be accomplished through teamwork. Students constantly share their interests and discoveries with each other. The youngest experience the daily stimulation of their older friends, and are naturally spurred on to be able to "do what the big kids can do."

How Montessori Teachers Meet the Needs of So Many Different Children

Montessori guides have four principle goals:

Homework, Tests, and Grades


Tim Seldin is the President of the Montessori Foundation. He is the Headmaster Emeritus of the Barrie School, Co-Founder of the Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies, and co-author of two books, The World In The Palm Of Her Hand and Celebrations of Life.

Montessori 101_Tim Seldin
Download PDF • 149KB

15 views0 comments


bottom of page