Small World   Montessori Philosophy


Montessori is an attitude not simply a teaching system, not just a technique

One must have great love for and understanding of each individual child

Montessori is a spiritual attitude towards Mankind and Mankind begins with Childhood

Introducing Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870.   She began her professional life not as an educator, but as a doctor of medicine.   After extensive experience in private practice, hospital work and research, she undertook further studies in education, philosophy, psychology and anthropology as a basis for her growing commitment to education.   At the age of 37 she took responsibility for a group of underprivileged children in the San Lorenzo district of Rome, founding her first Children's Home (Case dei Bambini).

Her unique approach to these children led to surprising results.   She observed that when previously unruly children were provided with experiences that corresponded closely to their stage of development they easily became absorbed in purposeful activities.   Challenging activities engendered greater interest than toys.   The children generally wished to do things for themselves and were less interested in rewards given for working than in the activity itself.   This seemed to her an inherent characteristic of the child.   She came to believe that the child's education should proceed in such a was as to provide an environment in which the spontaneous activity of the child would be left free to manifest itself.

Her San Lorenzo "Casa dei Bambini" became world famous.   She was asked to lecture throughout the world: U.S.A, England, Germany, France, Holland, India and Ceylon.   Montessori schools sprang up and training courses were given.   Dr. Montessori published a series of texts covering the study of the pre-school child, the study of 'sensitive periods of development', the extension of her ideas of advanced school ages and the training of teachers.   She also designed an extensive range of teaching materials for many subjects suitable for nursery, elementary and secondary schools.

The Montessori "Method"

Montessori herself regarded the term 'method' as misleading.   Perhaps it is inevitable that she be commonly identified with equipment, exercises and children reading, writing and calculating at a very early age.   More importantly, however, was her profound understanding of the development of the child's personality and innate capabilities; his need to achieve balance, orientation and competence in an increasingly demanding environment.   Dr. Montessori recognised the pervasive influence of the environment on the development of the child.   For the most part she observed a hostile environment, which repressed the child's natural development and led to confusion, maladjustment and discontent.  Given the miracle of growth, the tendency for the child to unfold and flower, she believed that the environment should aid and foster the child's development: not just in a nursery school but from birth onwards.  Nor was her approach limited to a school environment.   Her message was for parents, administrators and mankind in general.   The nursery school was but the most meaningful and obvious place to start.

Fundamental to Montessori's approach was a great respect for the child as an individual.   To help the personality towards independence and an awareness of his real position in history appears a loft aim, but it is inherent in all that is done on the practical level of everyday activity.

The path to aim is through providing a supportive yet challenging environment, rich in experience and mindful of the child's capacities and needs.   Leading the child towards mastering his environment is the formidable task that is attempted.   Success requires an understanding of each child as an individual and an ordering of his specific environment in such a way that he develops progressively an understanding and refinement of his senses, an appreciation of his role as part of a group and above all an independence and sense of internal motivation which will sustain his desire to explore and wonder.  As Montessori paraphrased so aptly the biblical quotation, "Understand thyself and thy beauty; proceed prosperously in thine environment rich and full of miracles and reign over it."

Montessori Schools

Montessori nursery schools provide children with an environment in which they may gain experience through activities and movement.  We know that movement and activity are natural functions of childhood and that learning comes through them.  To this end the Montessori environment is arranged to allow the child to move and work in freedom.  Freedom however with limits, these limits being determined by the need to help the child to see himself as one of the group.  "The liberty of the child should have as its limit the collective interest".

The materials used by the children in a Montessori nursery school are designed to allow the child to correct his own mistakes.  The general aim of all activities in the early years is to provide the child with keys to the world around him.  The materials provide the child with concrete experiences to help him classify the impressions he receives from his senses: touching, tasting, smelling, seeing and hearing.  "The aim of the materials is an inner one: mainly that the child trains himself to observe: that he is led to make comparisons between objects . . . to reason and to decide." The child is encouraged to use precise terminology to explore and to classify through the use of materials graded from the simple to the more complex.  The objective is not the transmission of knowledge for its own sake, but rather the development of learning skills as resources upon which the child can draw in mastering his environment.

The role of the directress in a Montessori classroom is vital.  She does not teach in the traditional sense, but guides each child's progress, helping him to help himself.  She is especially trained to observe, to respond to the needs of individual children and to direct the whole group.   She is concerned with the total development of the child on all levels: physical, social, emotional and intellectual.  She will recognise a child's readiness to move on and in this way acts as a link between the environment and the child's needs.  She is responsible for the content and order of the environment.   Her authority is exercised mainly by her example.


The parents' role is fundamental.   Harmony must exist between the child's experiences at home and at school.   It is important therefore that parents have a basic understanding and acceptance of the Montessori philosophy.   Prior to enrolling their child, parents should visit and observe their local Montessori school.

The Montessori Society A.M.I. (UK)

The Montessori Society is an association of individual members of the Association Montessori Internationale in the United Kingdom.   It is closely affiliated with the Association Montessori Internationale which is centred in Holland and is responsible for Montessori matters world-wide.   The main aim of the Society is to maintain and further the rights of the child and to foster the Montessori approach.

The following information may be obtained from the Montessori Society:

  • The Montessori Society's complete booklist.
  • A list of registered Montessori schools in the UK
  • The Maria Montessori Training Organisation's Prospectus for Montessori Directresses
  • The Society also helps people seeking A.M.I. trained staff.   If you are interested in this service please write to the Society for further details.

N.B.  Please enclose a large self addressed stamped envelope with all requests.

The Montessori Society A.M.I. (UK) 26 Lyndhurst Gardens London NW3 5NW