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Montessori Purpose and Program

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The Purpose of Montessori Education

Dr. Montessori believed that no human being is educated by another person. He/she must do it himself/herself. A truly educated individual continues to learn long after the hours and years they spend in the classroom, because they are motivated from within by a natural curiosity and love for knowledge. Therefore, the goal of education should not be to fill the child with facts from pre-selected studies, but rather to cultivate their own natural desire to learn.

In the Montessori classroom this objective is approached in two ways: first, by allowing each child to experience the excitement of learning by his/her own choice rather than being forced and second, by helping him to perfect his/her natural tools for learning, so that his/her ability will be at a maximum in future learning situations. The Montessori materials have this dual, long-range purpose, in addition to their immediate purpose of giving specific information to the child.

Dr. Montessori always emphasized that the hand is the chief guide of the child. In order to learn, there must be concentration, and the best way a child can concentrate is by fixing his/her attention on some task he is performing with his/her hands. (The adult habit of doodling is a remnant of this practice.) All the equipment in a Montessori classroom allows the child to reinforce his/her casual impressions by inviting him to use his/her hands for learning.

The Montessori Primary Program (ages 3-6)

The Montessori primary classroom, or Children’s House, is a “living room” for children. Children choose their work from among self-correcting materials displayed on open shelves and they work in specific work areas. Over a period of time, the children develop into a “normalized community,” working with high concentration and few interruptions.

Normalization is the process whereby a child moves from being undisciplined to self-disciplined, from disordered to ordered, from distracted to focused, through work in the environment. The process occurs through repeated work with materials that captivate the child’s attention. For some children this inner change may take place quite suddenly, leading into deep concentration. In the Montessori primary classroom, academic competency is a means to an end, and the manipulatives are viewed as “materials for development.”

The primary classrooms are divided into five distinct areas:  

  • Practical life enhances the development of hand-eye coordination, gross motor control, and cognitive order through care of self, care of the environment, development of social relations, and coordination of physical movement.

  • The sensorial area enables the child to order, classify, and describe sensory impressions in relation to length, width, temperature, mass, color, pitch, etc.

  • Mathematics makes use of manipulative materials to enable the child to internalize concepts of number, symbol, sequence, operations and memorization of basic facts.

  • Language arts include oral language development, written expression, reading, and the study of grammar, creative dramatics, and children’s literature. Basic skills in writing and reading are developed through the use of sandpaper letters, alphabet cutouts and various presentations, allowing children to link sounds and letter symbols effortlessly and to express their thoughts through writing.

  • Cultural activities expose the child to basics in geography, history, life sciences, and earth sciences. Music, art, and movement education are part of the integrated cultural curriculum.

The primary environment unifies the social, physical, and intellectual functioning of the child. Its important function is to provide children with an early and general foundation that includes a positive attitude toward school, inner security and sense of order, pride in the physical environment, abiding curiosity, a habit of concentration, habits of initiative and persistence, the ability to make decisions, self-discipline, and sense of responsibility to other members in the class, school and community. This foundation will enable them to acquire more specialized knowledge and skill throughout their school career.

The Montessori Elementary Program (ages 6-9 and 9-12)

The elementary program offers a continuum built on the primary experience. As in the primary classroom, the Montessori materials are a means to an end. They are intended to evoke the imagination, to aid abstraction, and to generate a world view about the human task and purpose. The child works within a philosophical system, asking questions about the origins of the universe, the nature of life, people and their differences, and so on. On the factual basis, interdisciplinary studies combine geological, biological, and anthropological science in the study of natural history and world ecology. The environment reflects a new stage of development and offers the following:

  • Integration of the arts, sciences, geography, history, and language that evokes the natural imagination and abstraction of the elementary child.

  • Presentation of knowledge as part of a large-scale narrative that reveals the origins of the earth, life, human communities, and modern history; always in the context of the wholeness of life. Presentation of the formal scientific language of zoology, botany, anthropology, geography, geology, etc., exposing the child to accurate, organized information and respecting the child’s intelligence and interests.

  • Connective narratives that provide an inspiring overview of the organizing, integrating Great Lessons. Great Lessons span the history of the universe from the big bang theory of the solar system, earth, and life forms to emergence of human cultures and the rise of civilization. Aided by impressionable charts and timelines, the child’s study of the universe in reference to the Great Lessons leads to awe and respect for the totality of knowledge.

  • The use of timelines, pictures, charts, and other visual aids to provide a linguistic and visual overview of the first principles of each discipline.

  • A mathematics curriculum presented with concrete materials that simultaneously reveal arithmetic, geometric and algebraic correlations. This curriculum recognizes the child’s need for experience, for repetition, for various levels of concreteness, for going from concrete to symbol to abstraction. The emphasis is on making formulae and rules a  point of arrival and discovery, not a point of departure.

  • An emphasis on creative writing, expository writing, interpretive reading of literature, research with primary resources, grammar and sentence analysis, spelling based on cultural studies and usage, and oral expression for both sharing research and dramatic productions.

  • Montessori-trained adults who are “enlightened generalists”-guides who are able to integrate the teaching of all subjects, not as isolated disciplines, but as part of a whole intellectual tradition.

  • Emphasis on open-ended research that is student-generated and guide-guided. Students are encouraged to wonder, carry out research, experiment, develop knowledge, make observations, and demonstrate skills. This in-depth study uses primary and secondary sources as well as other materials.  Textbooks and worksheets, if present at all, are used by the children as reference materials, not as a basis for assigned or ongoing work.

  • “Going out” to make the community a resource beyond the four walls of the classroom.

Studies are integrated not only in terms of subject matter but also in terms of moral learning as well, resulting in appreciation and respect for life, moral empathy, and fundamental  belief in progress, the contribution of the individual, the universality of the human condition, and meaning of true justice.