A Philosophy of a Montessori Classroom

The following post is by Jessica Stellato, Lower Elementary Lead in the Galaxy Room at Montessori Academy at Sharon Springs in Cumming, Georgia. She shares a big-picture look at the philosophy behind the Montessori classroom experience.

Often parents wonder:

What is Montessori?

What is my child going to learn in a Montessori classroom?

Is there really a difference between a traditional classroom versus a

Montessori classroom?

I hope to give you a concise explanation of what an authentic Montessori program should entail for your child.

The Montessori method and philosophy is based on teaching to the whole child and encouraging independence beginning at a very early age. Children want to do for themselves. Maria Montessori stated, “Do not do for the child for what they can do for themselves.” Montessori students learn to think critically, work collaboratively, and act boldly – a skill set needed for the 21st century.

An authentic Montessori classroom will have a certified Guide (teacher) and an assistant. Some classes may have two certified Guides. A typical class will have mixed ages: Toddler 0-3 years, Primary 3-6 years, Lower Elementary 6-9 years, Upper Elementary 9-12 years (some schools join Lower and Upper, making it a 6-12 year old classroom), and Middle School 12-14 years. There are also a few Montessori High Schools, with students ranging from 14-18 years old.

A Montessori child will experience an uninterrupted work cycle, preferably 3 hours long in the morning. This is a sacred and cherished time in the classroom. The children have freedom of movement and choice; however, these choices are within limits.

Throughout the Montessori school experience, each child is valued as a unique individual, with respect of the child being of great importance. Beginning at an early age, Montessori students develop order, coordination, concentration, and independence to think for themselves. Students are part of a close community of caring teachers and classmates. Students are continually encouraged to learn through their personal interests, creating an individual who loves to learn throughout his life. In addition, self-correction and self-assessment are an integral part of a Montessori classroom, allowing the child to know that it is acceptable to make mistakes and learn from them. This approach not only not eliminates a fear of failure, but builds self-esteem, which is vital in the development of a child.

If you are interested in learning more about the Montessori philosophy, please visit the American Montessori Society online or the Montessori Education page on Wikipedia.

Process Precedes Content


“As a child becomes familiar with the expectations in a Montessori classroom, they develop a sense of internal order helping them navigate through the multitude of decisions they make on a daily basis. Part of the core foundation of a Montessori classroom is ‘freedom with responsibility.’

“A Montessori student enjoys the freedom of choosing a variety of work, once they have learned the specific steps of using the materials and to work at the level matching their experience and abilities.

“Often, it takes time and practice for a child to use the materials in the way they were initially presented by the teacher. If a child is not engaging the materials in a concise way, it becomes vital for the teacher to continually model the way it needs to be done. The child needs a clear view of how something is done in order to achieve mastery of the skill.


“If the child is left with an unfinished impression of how to do something, they are not enjoying the higher level of confidence they could experience by following a process that is tried and true. Integrating a process of how something is done is the foundation for learning. We know that a sure, steady organized approach to a work is going to net a better experience for the child and increase the likelihood of them using the materials independently again.

“Even at home, it can be helpful to encourage your child to take their time with any tasks you might ask them to do. Maybe putting their toys away in an organized and consistent process could help foster the habit of slowing down and doing something with full attention.”

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From the P2 Blog

You Are Truly Brilliant

FMS Parents may be familiar with Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which made waves in the fields of education and developmental psychology after it was outlined in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. 

Gardner, a renowned developmental psychologist and Harvard professor, maintained that intelligence wasn’t so black and white as traditional school assessments and public opinion would have us believe. A child who struggled through their mathematical exercises could be a brilliant poet; a child who struggled at all traditional subjects altogether may be a brilliant musician or athlete. No intelligence is innately superior to another, and every person likely has some form of all the intelligences, but may excel in one or two.

(Want to know what type of intelligence you have? Click here and here to take two unofficial tests.)

In 1999, Gardner added another intelligence (naturalistic) to his original seven, and has since proposed a ninth. The intelligences are musical–rhythmic, visual–spatial, verbal–linguistic, logical–mathematical, bodily–kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic. The ninth, which may or may not be an official addition at this juncture, is moral or existential intelligence. Check out this wonderful infographic by designer Diana Ziv below:

While the Montessori method  is not based on Gardner’s theory (Dr. Montessori began developing her philosophy in 1897), it does complement it in that it encourages students to develop their talents, feed their curiosity and learn more about subjects that they are interested in. Gardner is also a fan of student-directed learning and alternative forms of assessment. To learn more about Gardner’s theories and how they relate to education, check out this 1997 interview with Edutopia and visit the official website for information on the Theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI).




Famous Montessori Alumni

  • Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Co-founders of Google, Inc.
  • Yo-Yo Ma, United Nations Peace Ambassador and Renowned Cellist
  • Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon, Inc.
  • Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Former First Lady
  • Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Nobel Prize Winner, Novelist
  • Anne Frank, Diarist
  • Julia Child, Chef, Author and TV personality
  • President Woodrow Wilson
  • Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia
  • Will Wright, Designer of SimCity
  • Katherine Graham,  Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Former owner of Washington Post
  • Princes Harry and William
  • Peter Drucker, Author, famed Management Consultant and recipient of Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • Devi Sridhar, Youngest American Rhodes Scholar
  • Eric Cornell. PhD., Nobel Prize Winner

Click here for more information

Teaching Confidence

“These words reveal the child’s inner needs; ‘Help me to do it alone’.” — Dr. Maria Montessori

Each child in a Montessori classroom is treated with respect and dignity and is often addressed by peers and teacher as “friend,” creating an environment of equality rather than of hierarchy. The open floor plan enables unrestricted and independent movement; instead of being forced to sit at a desk all day and ask for permission to get up to use the bathroom or sharpen a pencil, the child is able to naturally engage with his peers, teachers and the fascinating materials which surround him.

Mixed-age grouping and the three-year cycle is another hallmark of Montessori classrooms. This creates a more natural learning environment and allows the child to develop appropriate social skills. Often, older children are able to serve as mentors for younger children, modeling good behavior and teaching them new skills. This empowers the children and cements previously learned concepts, and allows them to feel that they are integral and valued members of a community. Younger children learn to engage with others rather than always relying on the teacher to tell them what to do.

By teaching primary children how to do real-world tasks like pouring water, sewing and tying their shoes, they learn to be self-reliant while increasing hand-eye coordination, concentration and focus.

April Dane, E4 Head Teacher, remarks, “Young children love to do things for themselves because they have figured out that they can — things like walking, eating and playing. It is very physical. It is that wonderful realization that inspires them. At the elementary age they begin to see that not only can they do things for themselves physically like help make meals and dress themselves, but that they can make important choices including how to accomplish their goals and when it is important to complete their work. When the children in our class start realizing they have the power and control to accomplish things, they are so excited and say ‘I finished my goals this week.’ No one can tell them that, they have to experience it.”

Maryam Khadavi, Head Teacher in P3, agrees. “All work described by Dr. Montessori in Practical Life and other areas is to help a child to find his/her independence. She always emphasized that the hand is the chief teacher of the child and by using the hands to complete different tasks, children develop independence and build self-confidence. One of the things I do in my classroom is to give each child a particular project such as greeting the visitors, organizing the classroom, cleaning after lunch and watering plants, along with setting achievable weekly goals. In addition, occasionally I offer older children to select a student from the classroom and teach them three tasks in different areas. This also helps both older and younger children to build self-confidence and social skills.”

This sense of independence extends outside of the classroom into physical education, art, outdoor classroom and more. P.E. Teacher Ms. Angela tells of how excited a young student was after mastering the proper way to hold a lacrosse stick. Says Outdoor Classroom Specialist Ms. Valerie: “We always give the children choices so they can practice independence which allows children to feel empowered. Autonomy breeds spontaneous engagement and cooperation.”

In middle school, students are able to demonstrate what they learn through creative and innovative mediums and often present their projects to their peers, which allows them to develop valuable skills such as leadership, critical thinking, initiative, teamwork, public speaking, research techniques, troubleshooting, personal responsibility, time management and more.

In addition, students of all ages are allowed time for “heart work.” Says Ms. Erica, Middle School Head Teacher: “After they complete their goals and work they can go a step further to something they find really interesting and run with it; it can be something they are learning about in class or not.”

Both Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google Inc., have publicly credited their success as entrepreneurs to their early education in a Montessori classroom. In an interview with ABC News, Google CEO Larry Page remarks “I think that [our success] was part of that training of not following rules and orders and being self-motivated and questioning what’s going in the world and doing things a little bit different.”



Cultivating Peace

From the P2 Blog: “Ms. Melissa has introduced a peace curriculum into our classroom based on Sonnie McFarland’s book Honoring the Light of the Child. It is an in-depth presentation of creating peace step-by-step, of learning how to be an active listener (of oneself and with others), and of problem-solving, all based on ‘activities to nurture peaceful living skills in young children.’


One of the first skills we practiced is learning how to make silence. It goes like this:


I cross my legs

I place my hands on my knees,

I make my back very straight,

I tell my body to be still,

I tell my mouth to be quiet,

I take a deep breath,

I close my eyes,

I make Silence and feel my love

You would not believe the quality of silence we witness on a regular basis when the children ‘make silence.’ It immediately puts them in an alert and quiet mood and we see the positive effects of this exercise during the work cycle that follows.

We also learned to recognize that each of us has a ‘light of love within ourselves.’ This was demonstrated by creating a person template, with a shadow template. The teaching is ‘that our own love light is always shining and there are times that we feel mad, sad or afraid. When this happens, it is difficult to feel our love lights.’

Even when we are feeling these emotions, our love light is always shining. There are ways to help our love light shine brighter.  We can take a moment and breathe deeply, practice the art of making silence, and allow the cloudy moment to pass, as it always will.

You may have seen your child wearing a little yellow felt circle pin. This is symbolic of their love light and when they feel like wearing one in the classroom they visit our peace area and pick one out to wear.”

To see more pictures and read more about the goings on in P2, click here.

Foothills Montessori School is a private Montessori school serving families in Henderson, Las Vegas and Southern Nevada.

Courtesy in the Classroom

Let’s peek inside the doors of P2, where students are learning about the concept of courtesy in the classroom.

“Grace and courtesy are fundamental concepts taught by Dr. Maria Montessori  in her original school for young children of working class parents. It was the recognition of how the children and their ‘guide’ (teachers) interacted with each other inside the classroom that helped create a peaceful and productive learning environment.

Today, we see that when each child recognizes that their voice and their actions have a direct impact on the flow of the whole class, they experience the power of working and being with others.

Not only do they begin the lifelong process of developing inner control and discipline but they experience the joy of being in harmony with the collective. It is a profound and important lesson in social development.

Some examples of practicing grace and courtesy begin first thing in the morning when the classroom doors are opened and the children are welcomed into the classroom. You may see a teacher extend their right hand greeting the child individually by name.

This action calls the child to the present moment and gives them a deep sense of belonging to the whole group. At the same time, this gesture reminds the child that they have entered a special place of learning and that they individually play an important role in that space.

Pushing in a chair after completing a task, is another tangible action of courtesy and one that our students experience numerous times a day. While the act is practical and signals to the child that they have completed their task, it reinforces the awareness that other children are using the environment with them.

Replacing a job in the condition they received it in and at the precise spot on the shelves also creates the awareness that if they do their part to preserve the order in the room, the whole Montessori classroom functions at a higher level. Watching a young three-year-old cheerfully push in a chair and roll up a mat is one of the delights of being a Montessori teacher.

Try this at home:

Create a simple method of organizing their toys or books. Use baskets and shelves to find a specific home for each toy or groups of toys and then teach your child to consistently replace the item in that exact spot. Actions speak louder than words, so in the beginning you might have to show your child the correct location for the toy and repeat the lesson until they have absorbed the idea. Once your child sees the advantage of having their toy accessible in the same location, it will be easier for them to return it consistently to that spot.”

–The P2 Teachers

See more pictures on their blog (FMS Parents only)

Foothills Montessori School is a private Montessori school serving families in Henderson, Las Vegas and Southern Nevada.

The First Great Lesson

In Montessori education, students often start off their school year with “The First Great Lesson.” Says Ms. Vickie, teacher in E2: “The lesson is intended to make an impression on the children and spark an interest in the world around them. We do a series of experiments that demonstrate basic science to inspire and motivate them to want to learn new things.

“Maria Montessori said: ‘Knowledge can be best given when there is eagerness to learn, so this is the period when the seed of everything can be sown, the child’s mind being like a fertile field, ready to receive what will germinate into culture. [In lower elementary], all items of culture are received enthusiastically, and later these seeds will expand and grow.’ (To Educate the Human Potential, pg. 4).”

As a grade level, we would suggest that the parents look through the classroom blogs for pictures of the First Great Lesson and discuss them with their child and see what they learned and what they thought was exciting and fun!”

First Great Lessons often touch on the origin of the earth, science, physics, astronomy, composition of matter, geology, chemistry and biology. This is the ultimate way to spark excitement for learning; to build a foundation for future learning; and to give a “big picture” perspective on how fields of study work together within the universe. For an example of lessons given, click here.

Foothills Montessori School is a private Montessori school serving families in Henderson, Las Vegas and Southern Nevada.

How to Build a Better Brain

Beginning in the 1940s, numerous studies have linked intelligence quotient and childhood environment. More stimulating, engaging environments have been proven to increase the number of synapses and neurons in the brain; increase dendrite complexity; increase synapse activity and increase cortex volume. The effect is especially pronounced during childhood, when the brain is still developing, but it can continue into adulthood. For example, stimulating environments have been shown to assist in the recovery of those with Alzheimer’s disease and other symptoms of age-related cognitive decline.

Charles Darwin, in 1874, was one of the first to hypothesize on how environment shaped brain size. In 1947, a psychologist named Donald Hebb found that rats raised as pets performed better on problem solving tests than rats raised in cages. A follow-up study by Mark Rosenzweig in 1960 found that rats in an “enriched environment”, a cage with all sorts of ladders, wheels, tunnels, and other toys, developed increased cerebral cortex volume. You can read more about the studies here and here.

Maria Montessori, who was four years old at the time Darwin was speculating about the effect of environment on the brain size of wild rabbits, ultimately came to similar conclusions. “The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences … To assist a child we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely … Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur … The child should live in an environment of beauty.”

Montessori classrooms are designed to be inviting, welcoming, and above all, stimulating. The materials are created to incite curiosity and fascination. Everything is colorful, tactile, and at the child’s eye level. The mood is safe, serene and home-like. The child is able to engage in self-directed learning, encouraging independence, a love of learning, and self-confidence.

But school is only one facet of a child’s life. Parents can create an environment that is conducive to creativity and critical thinking in the home, as well. Arts and crafts, weekend trips, outdoor activities, interactive games, books, and  imaginative play all help the young child’s brain to grow and make new connections.

For more ideas, check out this Pinterest board, “DIY Montessori Activities.” There are also tons of books on Montessori activities to do at home, which you can check out on Amazon. We hope you find some new ideas and enjoy exercising your brain!






Superwoman Was Already Here

Have you seen the popular documentaries Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere? Both films address the public school system and its perceived shortcomings — one discusses unions and bureaucracies, while the other takes aim at the high-pressure tests/grades/homework culture.

Of course, every large-scale system has its weak and strong points, and its always good to look at ways to improve. Trevor Eissler, a longtime Montessori parent and advocate, has created a series of videos about how the Montessori approach can help solve some of these endemic issues. In one, he asserts that “Superwoman Was Already Here.” Check it out and see if you agree.