MARIA MONTESSORI was born in 1870 in Acona., Italy. To understand her unique method of education it is important to know something of her background. The child of a progressive and ambitious family, she chose to study engineering and mathematics at a time when higher education for girls was considered unnecessary. Even more remarkable, she went on to qualify as the first woman doctor in her countries history. It is hardly surprising therefore that from such a remarkable woman came remarkable views. Dr. Montessori first made history by being the first woman physician in Italy. Her first interest as a physician was to care for the deficient and retarded children, where basing her work on the principles evolved by two French doctors and educators -Seguin and Itard she found she was able to bring certain of these children to a higher level of development. She began to develop special learning materials to help them to enter public schools and successfully compete with normal children. She believed that if her method achieved such startling results with retarded children then these same methods could improve the performance of normal children.

In l907 she opened her first school, in a slum area of San Lorenzo. Fame and recognition now came quickly to Montessori. The press of the world was recording stories of how successful her methods were. Visitors came from many parts of the world to see for themselves.The visitors were inspired and the Montessori Movement began to spring up all over the world. Montessori schools opened in places as widely separated as America, Russia, Japan, Germany and India, to name only some.

Maria Montessori now spent all her time on her new work, training teachers, writing and giving public lectures. Dr. Maria Montessori left behind a wonderful legacy: a philosophy of life, a unique method of education, materials, with which to educate, and a system of training which is capable of producing teachers who give the children the best possible foundation for life.



The word Montessori is often used, but commonly misunderstood. The widespread misunderstanding is caused by a lack of information on Maria Montessori and her original work.

a. Montessori is not an accelerated learning programme, though academic achievement is often a result due to the fact that the Montessori Method takes full advantage of the child’s desire to learn. It empowers the child to master skills at their own pace, thus building their self-esteem.

b. Montessori is not disorganised or undisciplined. Some parents complain that Montessori allows too much freedom or not enough. This paradox can be explained by appreciation of the true meaning of liberty. The freedom given to the child is to do what is right, not what is wrong. Montessori did not believe in absolute freedom. In fact she instructed her teachers to check the children whenever they displayed selfishness or lack of self-control. Freedom within the environment can only exist when rules are obeyed.

c. Montessori is not rigid structured and disciplined. The order within the environment is not arbitrary, but is a response to the child’s need for structured experiences as he tries to make sense of the world around him. Everything in the room has a permanent place. The materials are arranged along the shelves in order of difficulty. Order in the environment helps the child to work independently without needing an adult’s assistance. The child knows how to select what is appropriate for his developmental level and personal needs.

The order of a Montessori classroom is not the structure of a conventional classroom. There is no assigned seats, no compulsory break period, no graded placement of children by age.

d. Montessori children do adjust well to other school’s programmes. Obviously how well a child adjusts will generally depend on the quality and latitude of the public or Independent school he/she enters. The child however, will be well equipped because of the desire to learn that has been fostered throughout his Montessori training.

An adjustment to Grade 1 is necessary for all children regardless of what preschool training they have received. Parents also have an influence on their child’s adjustment to public or other Independent schools. They should observe the new school and then prepare their child for any changes they have noticed (e.g. teacher at the front of the class, fixed seating and set timetable).

e. Montessori herself, however, found that a concrete basis is needed at the beginning of the learning process. The development of the senses precedes that of superior intellectual activity. We can only give the child the power and the means for observation and these means are procured through education of the senses. The child then teaches himself/herself (auto-education). Experience has shown that the child himself/herself will disregard the apparatus and work without it when he is ready to do so.

f. Montessori does permit social development. In a Montessori school there are friendships and sharing. Children interact with each other and with the adults. Because there is no artificially induced competition, the children learn to co-operate with each other. There is usually a three year age grouping so that the youngest child may learn from older one. The respect which the directress shows towards each child is a model for the children to follow in learning to respect each other.

There are areas and activities provided for solitude and small and large group activities. However no child is coerced into joining a group activity.




1.Children are qualitatively different from adults-they require a different approach:

- A childhood is valid in itself-not man in making

- It is a state to be protected

- Children should be REJOICED IN

- Children require a different approach

- Children require a different environment


2. The ‘WHOLE CHILD’ is educated: physical, social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual


3. The child is an active learner

- Spontaneous activity: the child chooses an activity-the equipment supports concrete learning

- The links in knowledge are built up step by step, i.e. education of the senses – general notions

-abstract thought.

- Individual activity is encouraged as every child learns at a different rate

- The importance of the connection between the mind and the brain is emphasized


4. Intrinsic motivation

- Children want to learn; they do not have to be motivated by external forced-reward and punishment are not used.

- Through the prepared environment the child is free to select his chosen activity-therefore he learns what he wants to learn. This spontaneous activity encourages self-direction and self-reliance. Concentration develops if a child is self-motivated.


5. Self-discipline is encouraged

- Self-discipline emerges from allowing intrinsic motivation

- Also the child is allowed the space for self-regulation

- The child is protected from the adult and other children’s intervention

- The apparatus also encourages self-discipline-by completing an activity satisfactorily, the child feels rewarded and is encouraged to take on longer and more complex tasks-thus disciplining himself.


6. There are Sensitive Periods in development

- A Sensitive Period is a short period of time when a child is completely absorbed by one aspect of the environment

- Dr Montessori was the first educator to identify these sensitive periods

- Examples of sensitive periods: Language, order, social aspects

- From a educational point of view, if a child is in a sensitive period he is encouraged and allowed to follow it. His interest and concentration will not be broken


7. A child-centred approach starting from what the child can do

- Through the prepared environment, the child builds on what he can do, gradually and accomplishing more and more skills and knowledge

- The teacher is scientific in her approach: she observes and keeps careful records so that she can plan appropriate activities to extend the child’s horizon

- The teacher guides and directs the child’s activities

- The teacher serves the child


8. The inner life of the child is respected

- The child’s dignity is respected

- The child is never hit or verbally abused

- Tranquility and peacefulness are encouraged

- Silence is often found in the classroom it is not imposed

- Harmony, both externally and internally, are aimed for the child’s unique personality must be allowed to develop naturally


9. Social Interaction

- The adult and the children with whom the child inter-acts are seen as crucial to the child’s whole development

- Competition is not encouraged

- Children are vertically grouped because it is more natural


10. The environment affects the child’s development

- The quality of the child’s interaction with the environment affects development

- The child learns from the environment

- Adults and other children are part of the environment




Montessori is a method of teaching where the child is encouraged to learn through discovery. Montessori is not a system for training children in academic studies; nor is it a label to be put on educational materials. It is a revolutionary method of observing and supporting the natural development of children. Montessori educational practice helps children develop creativity, problem solving, social, and time-management skills, to contribute to society and the environment, and to become fulfilled persons in their particular time and place on Earth.

The basis of Montessori practice in the classroom is respected individual choice of research and work, and group lessons led by an adult. As you read through these pages you will discover the unique practices that make Montessori the fastest growing and most successful method of education today.

Learning How to Think
The Montessori Primary school program offers an unparalleled opportunity for the ongoing development of your child who has been nurtured in the preschool program. He/She is entering a new period in his life; this imaginative, social, creative child needs a planned environment and expansive course of study to support his burgeoning independence and potential. The Montessori Primary program, for children between the ages of six and nine, is designed to meet the needs of your child in this phase of development. This experience will shape not only his knowledge and skills, but also his attitude about learning for the rest of his life. Primary classrooms across the world share the following traits:

The Montessori Primary is built on the foundations of the preschool.
When your six year old comes into the Primary class from the Montessori preschool, she will find much that is familiar in this new setting. The Primary classroom environment is beautiful and thoughtfully prepared to support independent learning; it is child-centered, not adult-centered. There is access to the outdoors and the kinds of learning that can only take place in nature. Many of the beautiful, inviting Montessori materials from the Preschool classroom are also found in the Primary, where your child will use them in new ways suited to her expanding mind, and make her own discoveries in language, math, and science. Perhaps most importantly, the other children in the class have a similar background of being treated with respect and support, and have developed into confident, competent students.

The Primary “curriculum” is only limited by a child’s imagination
The goal of a traditional curriculum is to delineate what a child is supposed to learn. In Montessori, we want your child to be able to learn everything! The starting point for all courses of study is the “Great Lessons”; these impressionistic and scientific stories are presented every year and give the students the “big picture” of cosmology, astronomy, earth science, geography, chemistry, physics, biology, history, anthropology, cultural and social studies, language, math, music, and art. Subsequent lessons offer the children keys for exploring these areas of human knowledge in more detail. As in the preschool, the lessons are starting points for your child’s own activity. Meaningful learning happens when children are inspired by a lesson and begin to explore the subject and work on their own,

Children work collaboratively and cooperatively.
In the Preschool classroom, your child was best able to concentrate when working parallel to his peers, each with her own activity. Primary children, however, are at a different stage of development and have a strong drive to be social and to collaborate. For this reason, most of the lessons and follow-up projects in Primary are done in pairs or groups of children. Each day, your child will practice the social skills necessary to plan and carry out his projects: delegation and division of labor, sharing resources, making group decisions, taking responsibility for actions, and celebrating the success of peers. Conflict is not uncommon, but the motivation to resolve it comes from the children and their engagement with their projects. The Montessori teacher models and supports constructive and respectful problem solving. Learning how to work well with the different personalities and characteristics of other children in the classroom community is a significant life lesson with practical applications in the “real world” of high school, college and the professional workplace of the future.

The classroom is designed to nurture imagination and reason.
Primary age students are naturally curious and have a strong internal drive to discover how our world works. They may ask, “How does a fish breathe under water?” “What number comes after a trillion?” “What causes a volcano to erupt?” Instead of simply giving them the correct answers, Montessori Primary teachers ask the right questions; they tell stories to inspire the children’s imagination and tantalize them to explore on their own to find out more: about volcanoes and dinosaurs and Monet and gladiators and poppies and skateboards and butter churning and cheetahs and – there is no limit! Driven by their passions, the children are open to the input from the teacher that refines their reading, writing, reasoning, and research skills. Designing our Primary program around the children’s natural cognitive abilities means that our focus is less on the facts and concepts we teach and more on what the children learn and how they learn it.

The children’s work is open-ended and creative.
Each child’s response to a lesson is unique, and their follow up work reflects those individual differences. Your child is free to form or join a group to work with the concepts introduced in a lesson. For example, a group of children might have a lesson on the parts of a river. Some might choose to label an outline map with the rivers. Others might choose to repeat the demonstration with the river model (and without the teacher), labeling for themselves the parts previously demonstrated. Another pair might be intrigued by a particular river mentioned in the lesson or by the river running through their city, and they might launch a research project about the Umgeni River. Because the children are free to move around the classroom and see what others are doing, it’s not uncommon for an idea to spread; children are stimulated not just by the teacher’s lessons, but by each other.

Children are agents in their own education.
Children in Montessori have significantly more input into how they are taught, and control over how they learn, than children in traditional school settings. Their natural learning styles and preferences are respected and supported. The multi-age format of the classroom prevents comparison of children; differences in ability and achievement are expected. Lessons are presented in small groups to the children who are ready for them, regardless of their age. There is no social disadvantage to being bright, interested, and motivated at school. Likewise, there is no stigma for reviewing or repeating lessons to gain mastery. Your child is free to continue to work with a material or concept as long as necessary, or to move on when he is ready for a new challenge. In Montessori, all children get straight “A’s” because they only move on when they really understand a concept.

The children explore their own interests while meeting age-appropriate standards.
Montessori Primary students study both broadly and deeply, covering many subjects not attempted in traditional schools. The children often develop expertise in a subject that is especially interesting to them. Although there is a prescribed curriculum that the whole class must follow, your child can focus intensely on her self-chosen work, with minimal interruption. At the same time, she will collaborate with the teacher to ensure that the basic skills for each grade are mastered.

The children are empowered to seek knowledge beyond the classroom.
An important component of the Primary program is “excursions”. Excursions occurs for a group of children when exploration of a topic exhausts the resources of the classroom. We want the children to be comfortable navigating the world, not just our classrooms. So, we have a few excellent books, but not everything there is to read about a topic. We have many evocative art and construction materials, but probably not the one perfect thing that a group of children need to build their model. As a result, the children must “go out” beyond the limits of the classroom to find the information or resource that they need.

An excursion is a planned undertaking by a small group of children; children prepare themselves for the experience. Montessori Primary children go out to the public library, to museums, to farms, to local businesses and public service institutions. They attend plays, concerts, public lectures, tours, and other civic offerings. They spend time outside, having direct experiences with the natural world. Montessori children might go out occasionally or often, but the experiences are always deeply personal and memorable.

Montessori Primary children transition well into other schools
At the end of the Montessori Primary program, your child is ready for a very important transition: becoming an adolescent. His Primary years have given him the freedom to develop as a unique individual. He has experienced the challenges and rewards of working with a group of other children and has seen his skills and talents put to use in many group projects. He has developed proficiency in all areas of academic endeavors and looks forward to the new opportunities beyond Montessori Primary. He loves and trusts the adults with whom he works. Above all, he is flexible and adaptable.

These skills, the culmination of the years Montessori Primary program, will help him to easily assimilate into new academic and social situations in senior primary, high school, college and beyond.