What is Montessori?

by Anita Chastain
Founder and Head of School
Chesterfield Montessori School

Choosing a school or educational philosophy for their children is one of the most important decisions parents can make. It can be quite a challenge weighing the pros and cons of private vs. public education, traditional vs. a more progressive style of education and the financial considerations that go along with these choices. But when the factors are carefully considered, the decision can become an easy one.

For those parents who are looking at educational options for their children, Montessori is often at the top of their list of considerations, but understanding what Montessori means is an important first step.

Montessori is an educational philosophy developed by the Italian physician and educator Dr. Maria Montessori, which began in 1907 and is currently practiced in an estimated 20,000 schools worldwide—serving children from birth through age 18 years. 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 and are characterized by beauty, order, reality, simplicity and accessibility.

Highly-trained professionals, Montessori teachers generally receive a full year of training beyond a bachelor’s degree. They provide individual and small group instruction. Under the guidance of a Montessori teacher, children engage with the many scientifically-developed didactic materials that encourage exploration and enhance the development of essential cognitive skills. Children learn to collaborate and work together in mixed-age classrooms. Long, uninterrupted periods of work provide children the freedom 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 twenty-first 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 three to six years). A study published in the September 29, 2006 issue of the journal Science showed that Montessori five-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.”

Each Montessori school offers programs for different age ranges, including infants/toddlers (birth to age 3 or 16 months to age 3), primary (3 to 6 years), elementary (first through sixth grade) and adolescents (seventh and eighth 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 more than 100 years of continual practice, Montessori education is in increasing demand worldwide. We are fortunate to have 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, contact Chesterfield Montessori School at 314-469-7150 or visit www.chesterfieldmontessori.org.