What Is Montessori?

by Anita Chastain
Founder and Head of School
Chesterfield Montessori School

Montessori is a proven educational philosophy developed by the Italian physician and educator Dr. Maria Montessori beginning in 1907 and currently practiced in an estimated 20,000 schools worldwide, serving children from birth through age 18. In the United States, more than 4,000 independent schools, as well as many public schools, use the Montessori approach.

“I have studied the child. I have taken what the child has given me and expressed it, and that is what is called the Montessori method.”
— Maria Montessori

Montessori is a respectful, child-centered approach to education. It is based on the premise that children naturally love to learn. Montessori classrooms provide carefully designed “prepared environments” for optimal learning that are characterized by beauty, order, reality, simplicity and accessibility. Montessori teachers are highly trained professionals, generally receiving a full year of training beyond a bachelor’s degree, and giving individual and small group instruction throughout the school day. Under the guidance of a teacher, children engage with the many scientifically developed didactic materials that allow for exploration and the development of essential cognitive skills. Children learn to collaborate and work together in mixed-age classrooms. Long, uninterrupted periods of work leave children free to progress at their own pace and rhythm, with no upper limits on learning. Children in Montessori develop the qualities needed for success in the 21st century, including innovation, collaboration and a global context.

Modern research supports what Dr. Montessori discovered through scientific observation: hands-on learning best develops the growing mind. Studies have shown a clear social and academic advantage for children in Montessori primary (ages 3 to 6). A study published in the September 29, 2006 issue of the journal Science showed that Montessori 5-year-olds had better math and reading skills, better social skills and better “executive function,” which is key to handling difficult or novel situations. Study authors Angeline Lillard, a University of Virginia professor of psychology, and Nicole Else-Quest, a former graduate student in psychology at the University of Wisconsin, also found that Montessori elementary students produced essays that were “significantly more creative and … [used] significantly more sophisticated sentence structures.”

Here in the St. Louis area, there are many Montessori schools to choose from. Most Montessori schools are accredited either by the Association Montessori Internationale, founded by Dr. Montessori to ensure the integrity of her work, or the American Montessori Society. Because each school is individually run and managed, parents are encouraged to visit several Montessori schools to find the school that they feel is the best fit for their children. Each Montessori school may offer programs for different age ranges, including infants/ toddlers (birth to age 3 or 16 months to age 3), Primary (3 to 6 years), Elementary (1st through 6th grade), and adolescents (7th and 8th grades).

Montessori schools generally provide families a supportive environment and opportunities to be involved with a community of people with a shared commitment to provide the very best for their children.

With over 100 years of continual practice, Montessori education is in increasing demand worldwide. We are fortunate to have many Montessori schools in the St. Louis area that provide children with the opportunity to engage in their task of “self-construction” in a peaceful, calm and productive environment.

For more information please call Chesterfield Montessori School at 314-469-7150 or visit online at www.chesterfieldmontessori.org.