Montessori

Most people think of Montessori as being an approach for the early years, but this worldwide movement is equally relevant to adolescents as pre-schoolers. There are several primary Montessori schools in the UK and one school for secondary aged children. You can find some of these in our directory.

This short film shows one parent’s perspective of how Montessori education differs from conventional schooling.

Maria Montessori

The Montessori approach to education was established by the Italian doctor, Maria Montessori (1870-1952). She has been hailed as one of the most important educators of the 20th century.

Education Pioneer, Maria Montessori

After graduating from medical school, Montessori studied education, philosophy, psychology and anthropology.

She initially taught children with special educational needs (SEN).

She approached their education as a scientist, using the classroom as her laboratory for observation and finding ways to help children reach their full potential. 

She concluded that these SEN methods should actually be applied to all children.

In 1907 she founded her first school, the Children’s House, in Rome which was to become world famous. Her goal for childhood was to “activate the child’s own natural desire to learn.”


The Montessori Approach

The key features of today’s Montessori schools include:

  • The teacher is referred to as a Director or Directress, as they are there to observe and guide, rather than teach.
  • The non-competitive atmosphere and lack of standardised tests allow children to work at their own pace
  • Mixed age groups allow children to help and be helped by others.
  • The environment should be in proportion to the child e.g. low tables and chairs, to provide a child-orientated setting.
  • Children do not to have to sit at desks for long periods. Movement and activity are considered natural functions of childhood from which learning occurs.
  • The emphasis is on learning by doing, through real-life practical examples.
  • The Montessori classroom uses materials which Maria Montessori designed, including blocks, beads and puzzles. These objects and their associated activities – which must be introduced in a specific order – help children learn about shapes, texture, language, literacy and maths, and support the development of critical thinking.
  • There are no rewards, punishments or criticisms. The reward is in the accomplishment of the task and this motivates children to achieve.
  • The teacher leads by example and gains authority through showing children respect and courtesy.
  • It is recognised that all children are different and learn in different ways.
  • Parent involvement is encouraged.
  • Montessori is a lifestyle.
  • Children are encouraged to do things for themselves, to plan their own work, thus becoming independent and self-reliant.
  • Children do work in a three-hour block, so that they can become deeply engaged in a task without interruption.
  • The Montessori Curriculum is inspired by Maria Montessori’s Five Great Lessons which aim to give children a big picture perspective of the world:
    • 1st Great Lesson: The Coming of the Universe
    • 2nd Great Lesson: The Coming of Life
    • 3rd Great Lesson: The Coming of Humans
    • 4th Great Lesson: The History of Writing
    • 5th Great Lesson:  The History of Mathematics
  • The National Curriculum subjects are usually offered alongside the Montessori Curriculum but there is more emphasis on drawing out connections between subjects. Therefore, topic work is common.
  • Global awareness is important as well as preparation for the future world in which the child will live.

The Scientific Basis for Montessori

Dr Angeline Lillard presents the research behind the foundations of Montessori education in her book, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius. “Amid the clamor for evidence-based education, she presents the studies that show how children learn best, makes clear why many traditional practices come up short, and describes an ingenious alternative that works.”

Lillard gives an overview of her book in a ten-part presentation, the first of which you can watch below. She says:

“I decided to take a Montessori training course on infant development. There was so much enthusiasm about Montessori but sometimes I would wonder… I was sceptical…

But I became increasingly impressed by how this woman 100 years ago – simply by watching children – arrived at so many of the same conclusions that our careful scientific research is reaching today.

What I didn’t expect would happen in the course of writing this book was that I would become increasingly disturbed by traditional education. Why don’t we incorporate these findings more in how we educate children today?”

Dr Angeline Lillard

Dr Angeline Lillard on the science behind Montessori


A glossary of terms and components of the Montessori approach can be found here: https://montessori-ami.org/resource-library/facts/glossary-montessori-terms


How to Choose a Montessori School

Credit: Franciane Heiden Rios / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

The Montessori method was never trademarked, so schools will vary from one to another in terms of how much they adhere to Maria Montessori’s original ethos.

Many for example combine the Montessori curriculum with the National Curriculum. There are several accreditation boards which can guide you in your research (see below).


Association Montessori Internationale

AMI was founded in 1929 by Dr Maria Montessori herself with two goals in mind:

  1. To further her life’s work in its original integrity and completeness.
  2. To guide its development and application in the interests of all children.

AMI is a source of Montessori training as well as a centre for continuing research and development. 


Montessori Education UK

Founded in 1993, ME(UK) is a registered charity committed to promoting high standards across Montessori schools and training providers in the UK. 


Montessori Evaluation and Accreditation Board

MEAB was introduced in 2007 by Montessori St Nicholas (MSN), a registered charity that provides support for Montessori practitioners and settings, advice to parents and training for practitioners in the largest Montessori college in Europe.

In 2005, MSN also established the Montessori Schools Association (MSA), a professional body that supports Montessori schools and teachers throughout the UK.

They provide information, advice, subsidised training and networking opportunities to members, while also raising the profile of Montessori education within government and with the public.


Montessori Schools Directory

You can search our directory for a Montessori school near you.


Voices from the Sector

You can read some of our interviews with Montessori teachers.


Notable and Famous Faces from Montessori Schools

The Wall Street Journal (2011) is quoted as saying that a Montessori education is the surest route to joining the creative elite. The Montessori Group website lists many examples to back up this statement.

LOS ANGELES – MARCH 14: Guest arrives for the 2019 iHeartRadio Music Awards on March 14, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Glenn Francis/Pacific Pro Digital Photography)

There are many high achievers who were Montessori educated, including Singer/Songwriters, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé Knowles and P Diddy; Actors, John Cusack, Helen Hunt and George Clooney; Basketball Player, Stephen Curry; Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

Will Wright, video game pioneer, says Montessori was the imagination amplifier that prepared him for creating The Sims, Sim City and Super Mario Brothers.

High profile members of society who have chosen to send their children to Montessori schools include the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Supermodel, Kate Moss.


Books about the Montessori Approach

Dr Montessori’s Own Handbook: A Short Guide to Her Ideas and Materials, by Maria Montessori

The Essential Montessori, by Elizabeth Hainstock

The Absorbent Mind, by Maria Montessori

Secret of Childhood, by Maria Montessori and Joseph Costelloe

The Discovery of the Child, by Maria Montessori

The Formation of Man, by Maria Montessori

To Educate the Human Potential, by Maria Montessori

Education for Human Development: Understanding Montessori, by Maria Montessori

Montessori – A Modern Approach, by Paula Polk Lillard

Montessori in the Classroom, by Paula Polk Lillard

Montessori Today, by Paula Polk Lillard

The Montessori Controversay, by John Chattin-McNicholas

The Pink What? by DePe Stephenson

Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, by Angeline Stoll Lillard

Montessori Read & Write, by Lynne Lawrence

Montessori Play & Learn, by Lesley Britton

Montessori Facebook Groups

Montessori for Families

Montessori 101

Montessori Homeschooling

The Montessori Magpie

Montessori for Social Justice

Progressive EducationOur supportive forum discussing progressive approaches to education (including Montessori) and why we need them.