The Montessori Method

Introducing Dr. Maria Montessori

The Montessori Method of instruction is an educational process designed to assist children to learn how to learn by themselves. At the heart of the approach lies the theory that children possess different and higher qualities than adults attribute to them. Therefore, children should be allowed to develop naturally through activities at their own pace.


Emphasis is placed on self-motivational learning where the use of specialized instructional materials and learning tasks promote and develop self-awareness, self-discipline and self-confidence. Prominent to the method is the use of sensory training, muscular education, and early reading and writing.


Dr. Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952) was the first Italian woman to earn a medical degree from the University of Rome in 1894 specializing in psychiatry.


Her post graduate expertise and work in the field of psychiatric medicine led her to accept the position of director of the Casa Del Bambini School in 1907. She took charge of the nursery school located in a Rome slum. Her methods proved successful over and over. Numerous Montessori schools were established and maintained throughout various parts of the world as a result of her experiences and the development of her progressive method of teaching.


Maria Montessori devoted her life to the improvement of education of children based on her beliefs, her studies, and her life’s works. A pioneer in comtemporary education she was at the forefront of efforts to see children as an experimental touchstone of educational methodology and human discoveries.


In later years, Maria Montessori devoted much of her time to writing and lecturing about her teaching method around the globe.

Academic Philosophy

Proponents believe that the materials inherent to the Montessori Method, such as three-dimensional geometric shapes and letters of the alphabet, when used under the supervision of trained teachers, help to develop curiosity and positive attitudes and behaviors toward learning in children. This behavior is reinforced through specialized techniques that utilize a mult-sensory approach to learning, or a tactile stimulation approach to learning. While still other materials and techniques are designed to improve children’s language skills. The Montessori Method also introduces children to the worlds of art, music, and the sciences.


The Montessori classroom is structured to meet the size, pace and interests of children between the ages of two and nine. The tables and chairs are moveable, permitting a flexible arrangement for a variety of activities. The children often work on small mats placed on the floor, where they are naturally comfortable. The classroom is also supplied with attractive “Materials” arranged on low shelves for a childs easy access. These materials are utilized to aid children as concrete “hands-on” examples to help cultivate and solidify abstract concepts.


The Montessori “Materials” found in the primary classroom (ages 2 – 6) can be divided into three main groups:


            THE PRACTICAL LIFE EXERCISES MATERIALS (Ages Two, Three and Four)


            THE SENSORIAL MATERIALS (All Ages)


            THE ACADEMIC MATERIALS (All Ages)


  • Language
  • Reading
  • Arithmetic/Math
  • Geography
  • Science
  • Botany
  • Music
  • Art

The Practical Life Exercises

Dr. Montessori structured several exercises for the classroom which a child would recognize from experiences in their homes. These exercises are called The Practical Life Exercises because the child uses familiar objects (materials) such as brushes, dishes, pitchers, water, buttons, snaps, zippers, pins, buckles, laces, hooks and eyes, and bows, to name a few. These materials are used to help the child perfect coordination, concentration, attention to details and good work habits.


For the young child there is something special about tasks which adults take for granted… washing dishes, paring vegetables, polishing silver, etc. These are exciting to the child because they allow the child to imitate the adult. IMITATION is one of the young child’s strongest urges during early years.


Since there are many opportunities for Practical Life Exercises in the home, we encourage you to allow your child to wash dishes, sort objects, polish silver, pour milk and dress themselves utilizing the same orderly procedures that are encouraged in the classroom. The goal is to instill good work habits that will become second nature to the child.

The Sensorial Exercises

A young child learns about the world through the constant use of all senses… Seeing… Hearing… Touching… Smelling…Tasting. Montessori utilizes a variety of sensorial materials, each isolating one defining quality such as color, weight, shape, texture, size, sound, and smell, which helps children to distinguish, categorize and relate new information to what they already know.


Sensorial Materials Include:


The Pink Tower… used to introduce children to size in THREE DIMENSIONS while helping to recognize a graduation in size.


The smelling Jars... helps children combine pairs of the smells by carefully smelling the dry contents of two sets of jars and matching the smells. The teacher is provided with an opportunity to build the child’s vocabulary by teaching the names of the foods contained in the jars. This later extends to liquids such as perfume, vanilla, vinegar, etc. and on to flowers and other smells in the environment.


The Color Tablets… used to introduce children to color. In phase one children utilize tablets that are the same size, shape and texture which differ only in highly contrasting color. They are asked to pair the tables while learning the corresponding names. In phase two, children will be given eight different shades of eight different colors and asked to distinguish and arrange each color in order, from the lightest shade to the darkest shade. Teaching children to be aware of fine differences in color is giving them remote preparation for all kinds of scientific observations, art, art appreciation, decorating and many other meaningful activities.


The Sound Boxes… most of us are born with the ability to hear, however, the ability to LISTEN carefully is a skill that is learned. The art of listening carefully is a quality worth cultivating for a lifetime and is vital preparation for learning to read. Montessori designed and uses a set of six cylinder-shaped brown wooden boxes with red tops which corresponds to a set of boxes with blue tops. Each box contains a small amount of different substances such as salt, rice, or dried beans. Each box in the red set has a mate in the boxes with the blue tops. Children must find the pairs by listening to and then grading the sounds from the loudest to the softest.


The Fabrics… this tactile approach prepares children for learning to write. In the Montessori classroom the child begins tactile activities with the object bag. This is a simple bag filled with a collection of familiar objects such as a cup, lid, pin, string, ball, etc. The child grasps each object and names it without looking at it. Upon mastering the object bag the child moves on to the fabrics. The child is given a box filled with pairs of different cloth materials such as wool, flannel, silk, cotton, velvet, canvas, lace, etc. Blindfolded, the child begins to identify the pairs by feeling them and matching them. At the same time the child is once again building vocabulary by giving the correct name of each pair identified


Other Sensorial Materials Include:


  • The Brown Stair
  • The Red Rods
  • The Baric Tablets
  • The Bells



The Academic Materials

The sensorial materials you have just learned about are all used in preparing your child for academic learning. Children are introduced to language, reading, mathematics, geography, science, botany, music, and art at such an early age because research indicates over and over again that at this age youngsters can joyfully absorb many difficult concepts if the conceps are introduced in concrete form. In other words, a unit or a fraction is not simply a number on paper, it is something your child can hold… a verb is not just a word on paper, it is something your child can act out. The materials that make these concepts tangible will serve as touchstones in your childs memory through every phase of academic progress.


Preparation for Writing


The Geometric Solids… geometric materials, which help children to concentrate on different shapes, is important to the development of language skills. Shape is the defining characteristic of each letter of the alphabet. Geometric solids is a set of materials alike in color, texture, and approximate size, however they differ greatly form one another in shape. The set includes the cube, the sphere, the cone, the cylinder, the pyramid, the rectangular prism, and the triangular prism. Children learn to recognize the shapes by handling the solids, looking at the solids, and playing group games where they try to identify the shapes while wearing a blindfold. This also provides an opportunity for children to relate the solids to things they are familiar with in their environment.


The Sandpaper Letters… children are introduced to the alphabetical symbols by using sandpaper letters. Each letter of the alphabet is outlined in sandpaper on an individual card. Vowels appear on blue cards and consonants are on red cards. Each child is shown how to trace the letter with two fingers following the same direction in which the symbol is normally written. In this method, children are able to SEE the shape, FEEL the shape, and HEAR the sound of the letter which the teacher repeats as the letter is introduced. The repetition of this exercise fixes the path of each of the letters in the child’s muscular memory. In the Montessori classroom children learn the phonetic sounds of letters before learning the alphabetical names in sequence. Phonetic sounds are given first because these are the sounds children hear in words. For example, a child can hear t at the beginning of the word top before hearing the alphabetical sound tee. Children are then introduced to consonants and vowels which helps to begin to construct three letter words with short vowel sounds.


Other Academic Materials Include:


  • The Geometric Cabinet
  • The Cylinder Blocks
  • The Constructive Triangle
  • The Metal Insets


Preparation for Reading


The Movable Alphabet… children at the early ages of three, four, and five have a unique fascination for words, both printed and written. Often, this fascination alone, enables a child to begin reading and writing before the age at which it is traditionally taught. The large letters of the Movable Alphabet allows children to start constructing words. The teacher prepares a bag of toys representing three letter words with the short vowel sound. These toys may include a bed, a lid, a fan, a cup, etc. First the child selects an object and says the name of it very slowly so that each sound can be heard --- b..e..d. Then the letter that represents the first sound is selected and placed beside the object on a mat board. The child then selects the correct letter for the second sound and finally the third sound. Children concentrate best when they are doing something with their hands. They will continue the word building process for a long period of time always increasing the length and complexity of words.


The Command Cards… the concept of reading suggests the understanding of words which someone else has constructed. It is normal for children to follow word-building exercises with reading. Reading occurs when a child is able to match a set of objects with a set of cards on which the names of the objects are already printed. In order to place the correct card beside the object, the child must be able to READ the word on the card he then progresses to matching pictures and words. Keep in mind the child is still using a tactile, hands-on approach while making visual perceptions. Children are introduced to verbs by using the set of red Command Cards. Each card has a single action word printed on it. As the children read the cards, they must perform the appropriate action, such as, run, hop, skip. Children enjoy and respond to this activity because they are also having fun. The teacher increases the difficulty of the commands according to the progress of the children.


Other Academic Materials Include:


  • Phonograms


Preparation for Mathematics


The basic concepts of math are learned by using concrete materials during the period in a child’s life when manipulating objects is enjoyable and fun.


Dr. Montessori designed concrete materials to represent all types of quantities. In the Montessori classroom, children not only see the symbol for 2, 2000, or ¼, they can also hold each of the corresponding quantities in their hands.


The Red and Blue Rods… the child’s first introduction to numbers is made with a set of red and blue rods which represent the quantities one through ten. The teacher helps the child to count the alternating red and blue sections of each rod as the rods are arranged in stair-like formation. The child calls the smallest rod ONE, the next TWO, and so on. Simultaneously, the child learns the corresponding figures by tracing the numerals in sandpaper. The teacher helps the child to place each sandpaper numeral next to the rod illustrating that quantity. This activity provides children with the opportunity to discover many mathematical facts including addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.


The Spindle Boxes… this exercise helps the child associate the numerals with the proper quantities. The Spindle Boxes have ten compartments labeled from zero through nine. The child is asked to put one spindle in the compartment labeled ONE and two spindles ibn the compartment labeled TWO, etc.


Other Academic Materials Include:


  • The Golden Beads
  • The Bank Game
  • The Decimal System Cards
  • The Numerals and Counters