Why Montessori?

Kim Auch

“There must be provision for the child to have contact with nature, to understand and appreciate the order, the harmony and beauty in nature… so that the child may better understand and participate in the marvelous things which civilization creates.” -Maria Montessori

Did you know that it is a child’s innate need to be in nature and interact with it? Nature is crucial to a child’s physical and emotional development, which is why we incorporate the natural world into the Montessori curriculum and environment as much as possible. Gardening, fruit and vegetable serving, recycling, and composting are all classroom activities that begin as early as 2 years old. As adults and caregivers, it is our responsibility for our children to set the foundation for developing an appreciation for nature. Check out the following tips and activities on incorporating the natural world into your child’s daily life:



Lauren Clark

Language development is a central part of education for our young learners. Maria Montessori’s holistic approach to language development focuses on the child, the teacher, the materials and the learning climate.

By the age of two, children are exposed to multiple language modalities including oral, signs and symbols and body language. They quickly learn that any interaction with themselves or others requires some form of language. In the Montessori Toddler environment, we focus first on the spoken word, concentrating on what is familiar to our young learners.

A Montessori Toddler classroom allows each child to have the freedom to engage in spontaneous conversation, using oral language to express ideas throughout the work period. Through the use of vocabulary enhancement tools, such as matching objects and cards, toddlers are intentionally exposed to the acquisition of the spoken word. When we begin by teaching words for known objects like fruit, vegetables, tools, modes of transportation, etc., children naturally begin to acquire expressive language skills. Within a few short months of commencing their experience in the classroom, our Montessori toddlers are speaking with confidence, communicating with friends, teachers and family.

  • language
  • toddler
Rebecca Dewey

Have you ever wondered why Dr. Maria Montessori developed a curriculum based on the senses? While sensory input is a naturally occurring experience, Dr. Montessori found that directed lessons on identifying and defining the input supported academic, artistic and social emotional growth.

From birth to age three, children learn from absorbing the sensorial impressions of the world around them. This process elicits emotional and physical responses. From age three to seven, children enter the developmental plane in which they are able to make sense of these impressions. Through purposeful observation, children begin to refine their understanding of sensory input. It is at this stage where we introduce children to the Sensorial curriculum.

“We cannot create observers by saying “observe," but by giving them the power and means for observation, and these means are procured through the education of the senses.” - Maria Montessori (The Montessori Method)

The Sensorial curriculum is designed to develop the nomenclature and the refinement of perception in the areas of dimension, color, stereognosis, temperature, weight, touch, smell, sound and taste.

All sensorial materials are designed with several key concepts in mind:

  1. Each material focuses on one isolated concept at a time.

  2. They are are what we call “materialized abstractions” meaning that each concept is presented as a three dimensional tangible object of which the children manipulate to gain a clear understanding of the abstract concept.

  3. The materials have a built-in control of error. This means that through purposeful manipulation of the materials, the children will be able to identify and correct their own mistakes.

  4. Each material is designed to be aesthetically pleasing, intriguing and of a size that the children can easily manipulate.

The first two areas of discovery for a child in a Montessori classroom are Practical Life and Sensorial, and through these areas, the children develop concentration, coordination, order, observational skills and independence. Once a child has internalized these skills, they are prepared to journey through the language, math, science, art and culture curriculums.

In this video, you'll observe Kindergarten students engaging in sensorial work and some extensions:


  • Kindergarten
  • knobs
  • montessori
  • observe
  • primary
  • red rods
  • sensorial
  • work
Mary Elizabeth Luangamath

Does something in this picture look out of place? Perhaps, more specifically, out of time?

As the debate of what constitutes purpose-driven technology continues among parents and professionals across the nation, this picture gives many Montessorians pause. There was another technology-opposed debate that raged around 370 B.C. Plato was an outspoken opponent of the technological advancement of his time, and in response he wrote Phaedrus, a philosophical dialogue that outlined the views on both sides. He wrote from the perspective of Socrates, saying,

“...this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; ...The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”

Plato’s strong words were in opposition of the controversial advent of writing​! Before this time, students learned by memorizing the words of scholars and their teachers. As a result, he believed that if people began to write down what they heard they would not have to remember their education as part of the fiber of their own minds. He urges Phaedrus to see the “...living word of knowledge which has a soul, and of which the written word is properly no more than an image...”

As Montessori schools incorporate technology, the purpose is to provide students with a technological, educationally relevant experience for the society into which they will grow. In Elementary, we have a coding class, robotics, a 3D printer in Makers’ Space, desktop and laptop computers, iPads, and the students use the app Seesaw to photo-document and keep a digital portfolio of their work, all because these are technologically relevant skills for the 21st century child. Maria encouraged her Elementary students to make books and booklets and large charts as part of their follow-up work to lessons, because these were considered “technological advancements” of the time, being full of colorful drawings, black and white photographs taken with the newly-invented camera, and typed text.

Maria Montessori was a progressive woman of her time, and she valued the importance of progress, be it intellectual, social or political. In the late 19th century and early 20th century in Italy, it was considered improper for a woman to attend classes with men, and yet, she was the first woman to graduate from the Rome Academy of Sciences. For much of the practical work that was a required part of her medical degree, she was not allowed to be in the company of her male classmates. So in order to work with the human cadavers for necessary anatomy and dissection practice, she would pay the university’s night guard to keep the lab open for her until 2 or 3 in the morning so she could complete her work. Maria developed a method of education that valued a child’s unique identity as its most prized resource to be cultivated and developed. She believed that the child should be regarded as the future man contained within him, that he himself should be the source of his strength and a springboard for progress in society as a whole. Thus, she believed, technological advancement would inevitably take place, because students possessed the drive to improve the world for the benefit of themselves and others. Julia Child, Larry Page, Sergei Brin, and Jeff Bezos are some of the most commonly named Montessori alumni, to the point that it might seem like old news, but this common recognition is because of how profoundly they re-shaped their industries into customer-centered services. They each changed the way their businesses had traditionally been conducted, and formed a new model suited to the 20th and 21st century modern, consumer family.

So would Maria Montessori have embraced the technology of today as something that belonged in her classrooms? We can only guess, but based on her belief in purposeful, skill-based lessons, she would have worked to optimize technologically relevant lessons of purposeful, age-appropriate, and skill-based learning. For the 21st-century child, intentional technology is part of everyday life, and so it is with this in mind that we carefully instruct the next generation of man to learn skills that re-shape the world as we know it.


Image courtesy of Montessori Life Magazine, Winter 2018

  • elementary
  • montessori
  • philosophy
  • technology
Jennifer Maloney

Practical Life Activities at Home

Practical Life lessons are an integral part of the Primary classroom and create a foundation for all other areas of the Montessori curriculum. The core goals of the Practical Life sequence are the development of a child’s sense of order, coordination (small and gross motor skills), concentration, and independence.

Practical Life activities are the work of everyday life. Children are constantly observing adults performing the practical tasks necessary for living. It is natural for a child to want to emulate these activities in an effort to develop a sense of being and purpose.

Lessons in Practical Life, or Daily Living, are divided into two main areas of development including Care of the Self and Care of the Environment.

Below are some suggestions for integrating Practical Life lessons at home:

Care of Self

  • Invite your child to help you prepare food, cook, or bake.
  • Include your child in packing his or her lunch for school.
  • Give your child the independence to meet some of his or her own needs in the kitchen by keeping plates and cups in low cabinets that can be reached easily, and providing healthy snacks at child-level in the refrigerator or pantry for self-serving. Additionally, you can provide stools that allow your child to reach the sink and counter-tops.
  • If possible, provide a child-sized table for practice pulling out and tucking in a chair.
  • Ask your child to pick out his or her clothes and shoes in order to encourage independent dressing.
  • Hang a coat rack at your child’s level.

Care of the Environment

Include your child in household chores including:

  • Dishwashing or unloading the dishwasher
  • Laundry: sorting, placing or removing items from the washing machine or dryer, folding, matching socks
  • Cleaning: dusting, sweeping, using a small vacuum
  • Gardening: weeding flower beds, raking leaves, tending to vegetable gardens, watering plants
  • Feeding pets

There is a third category for Practical Life defined as the Grace and Courtesy lessons. These lessons are designed to provide children with the self-discipline to feel confident as successful members of a community. This blog entry from How We Montessori provides some great examples of Grace and Courtesy lessons to consider.

Janey Arronson


Through research and observation, Maria Montessori identified the developmental timeline that indicates the ages when children have a predisposition or sensitivity to learning a specific skill. These stages are called sensitive periods. Sensitive periods include areas of development such as order, language, fine motor, walking, etc.

One sensitive period, and a major milestone for toddlers, is toilet learning which takes place between 12 and 18 months. While this sensitive period occurs at this age, it does not mean your child will have completed toilet learning by 18 months. At this age, however, they will begin to show an interest in the toilet, and they will start to have control over when they eliminate (or relieve themselves). In general, children typically complete toilet learning closer to the two year mark.

In order to determine if a child is ready to begin toilet training, one should look for the following signs:

  • She knows when she is eliminating.

  • She asks to have her diaper changed.

  • She hides or goes to a specific place in the house when she is eliminating and she remains dry for long periods of time (only having a few wet diapers a day).

Before the sensitive period, one can do the following to help the child prepare for toilet learning:

  1. Once the child is able to stand on her own, change her standing up in the bathroom.

  2. Allow her to pull her pants down or up and help with diaper tabs.

  3. Invite her to sit on the toilet after the diaper is removed, even if it is for only a second or two.

Once the readiness signs have been observed in the child, one can begin the toilet training process. The Montessori approach suggests the following steps:

  1. Pick out special underwear together.

  2. Stay home for three to five days.

  3. Take the child to the toilet every 30 to 45 minutes.

  4. Never force sitting on the toilet. Eliminating is one thing toddlers have control over, so don't try to force it. A toddler may have accidents or she may know when she needs to eliminate and choose to sit on her own.

  5. When the child successfully eliminates on the toilet, discuss any observations such as, “It sounds like you are all finished,” or “Do you feel like there is anything left?”

  6. If the child has an accident, show her how to change herself. Have her sit on the toilet to see if there is any more. Show her how to clean up the accident. This teaches her to take ownership of the elimination and motivates her to use the toilet the next time. If it is a bowel movement, dump it in the toilet and explain to the child that waste belongs in the toilet.

Consistency should result in fewer accidents after three days. Depending on the child’s age, occasional accidents are still very normal. Additionally, the child will still need diapers at night. When the child consistently wakes up with a dry diaper, and is able to wake up at night to use the toilet, then she is ready for underwear at night.   

Trust in the process of your child. This process can be frustrating and difficult as a parent, but please remember to stay positive and calm, for Maria Montessori once stated, “Everything you say to your child is absorbed, catalogued and remembered.”

  • age 2
  • diapers
  • toilet learning
Matthew Sullivan

From the moment a child enters a Montessori classroom, she learns the following rules:

  1. Respect yourself.

  2. Respect others.

  3. Respect the environment.

Not by coincidence are these three ground rules–fundamental in all Montessori classrooms–also the cornerstone of Gladwyne Montessori’s Positive Behavior Support Policy.

However, as evidenced by increasingly frequent, severe, and chaotic natural, climatic, and man-made catastrophes related to human activity around the world, the need to also respect the outdoor environment takes on added urgency not only for our children, but for future generations as well. Indeed, children clearly need to have opportunities and the ability to learn from–and respond to–changes in nature and the environment. In an effort to educate the child and promote sustainable lifestyles and responsible environmental stewardship, educators and parents play an important role in helping them learn ecological literacy. Montessori educators create exciting and enjoyable learning situations that teach to all learning styles, promote life-long learning, and celebrate the beauty of nature. The more we model and practice ecological respect and responsibility, the more children will follow our example. Moreover, we must encourage a personal affinity with the Earth through practical experiences outside the school and model and practice an ethic of care in order to understand, love, and respect Nature.

Maria Montessori observed that children thrive on real experiences using real, concrete, hands-on materials, and come to understand a concept using their own senses. They enjoy learning and draw upon previous experiences in order to understand and explore concepts more abstractly. This also applies to the natural world. Children (and all of us, really) rely on direct experience to make sense of and understand the world around them. For young children, such experiences become part of their being; that is, they experience Nature as part of themselves. The natural world stimulates and integrates all the child’s senses in ways that classroom materials simply cannot.

Dr. Montessori stated, “There must be provision for the child to have contact with nature; to understand and appreciate the order, the harmony and the beauty in nature.” Similarly, Montessori’s ideas about cosmic education reflect the imperative need for ecological literacy through environmental education initiatives.  

“It is also necessary for his psychical development to place the soul of the child in contact with creation, in order that he may lay up for himself treasure from the directly educating forces of living nature.”

Thus, we must provide opportunities for children to develop their physical and mental health, deep connections with nature, and strong ties to their surrounding community in a safe, nurturing, and positive environment, both inside and outside the school.

Some ways teachers can model, teach, promote, and support ecological literacy inside the school (and families at home, too!) include:

  • Lessons in:

    • physical and cultural geography;

    • physical and earth sciences;

    • life sciences (i.e., biology, zoology, botany);

    • ecology, such as food chains/webs, symbiosis, and the interconnectedness of all living things;

  • Provide children opportunities to care for plants and animals;

  • Promote awareness and wellness of body, mind, and spirit and also how these relate to Montessori’s work with peace education and cosmic education;

  • Practice responsible disposal of waste by reducing, reusing, and recycling;

  • Model and teach environmentally responsible use of classroom materials;

  • Discuss personal, community, and global benefits of buying local, natural, unprocessed, healthy foods;

  • Teach students the importance of balanced nutrition;

  • Compost organic waste to fertilize our gardens;

  • Use real plates, cups, flatware, etc., instead of disposable products;

  • Support a sustainable and “green” economy by using only recycled/recyclable products whenever possible;

  • Use only Earth-friendly, non-toxic, cruelty-free, and biodegradable soaps, detergents, and cleansers;

  • Encourage families to provide no-trash lunches;

  • Discuss the natural origins of materials and the environmental impacts of their consumption by humans (e.g., Where does the food we eat/clothes we wear/paper and technology we use truly come from?);

  • Reduce our school’s carbon footprint by turning off lights, computers, printers, copiers, fans, etc., when not in use;

  • Work towards the goal making Gladwyne Montessori a certified ‘green’ school ; and

  • Read books/design experiments/conduct research about any of the above.

Dr. Montessori believed that the natural outdoor environment should provide opportunities to intentionally connect classroom learning with outdoor learning and exploration. Gladwyne Montessori's beautiful campus offers children various wonderful opportunities to develop ecological literacy. They already experience the changes in seasons directly during daily outdoor recess, surrounded by myriad trees, bushes, gardens, and also the animals that live there.  

We can enhance the children’s outdoor educational experiences, using all five senses to:

  • Play outdoors daily to provide entertainment and exercise;

  • Observe, identify, study, and appreciate local flora/fauna;

  • Notice/discuss seasonal changes and cycles in weather, plants, and animals (e.g. variations in clouds, flying seeds, wildlife tracks in snow, etc.)

  • Take nature walks and keep nature journals;

  • Create, cultivate, and maintain community gardens (e.g., vegetable beds, butterfly gardens, rain gardens, flower beds, peace gardens, etc.);

  • Collect rainwater in barrels to be used for outdoor activities; and

  • Involve students (and families) in preparing soil, weeding the garden, sowing seeds, watering seedlings, maintaining the gardens, experiencing the joy and satisfaction of harvesting what they have grown, preparing and serving food as a means of encouraging healthy eating habits, and appreciating various forms of fresh produce from the school’s gardens.

These days, as it becomes more difficult for people and societies to connect with nature, time spent discovering the natural world around them has numerous benefits for children and is vital to their social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development. Research demonstrates that children who interact regularly with nature are healthier, can think more clearly, can pay attention more, are more effectively able to cope with stress, and learn to adapt to unexpected changes and circumstances.  Experiences in nature help stimulate children’s innate curiosity and interest in the world around them, support their intellectual growth, and instill in them a desire to better understand the world and their place in it.  

Maria Montessori encouraged educators to help children realize their potential within the unique context of their particular society and culture. Within the complex tapestry of modern ‘globalization,’ however, human beings’ connection to and dependence on the Earth ultimately remain the most important threads that unite–and impact–us all. Perceiving in children the hopes for humanity, Dr. Montessori said, “No phenomenon can affect one group without affecting others as a consequence. To put it a better way, the interest of any one group is the interest of all.” Thus, helping a child realize her potential as an individual is, in the long run, inseparable from realizing the potential for all humankind.  By teaching children ecological literacy, we teach them to connect meaningfully with nature, to learn to respect, protect, and enjoy the natural world which unites us and whose preservation is most certainly essential to achieving humanity’s potential. Put simply, it means going outside, exploring the beauty of the Earth, and learning about the role we play in both the preservation and desecration of the planet. It is about learning to work together to protect the Earth and all the living things that inhabit it.

¹ Traditionally, the “environment” refers to the actual physical classroom and school environments, including all the concrete learning materials, school supplies, work rugs, furniture, adornments, etc., as well as any other living things (e.g., classroom plants and animals) found there.

Further Readings

Louv, Richard.  Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (Chapel Hill:  Algonquin Books, 2005).

Marshall, Peter.  Nature’s Web: Rethinking Our Place On Earth  (New York:  Paragon House, 1994).

Montessori, Maria.  Education and Peace.  (Oxford:  ABC-Clio Ltd., 1999).

Sinead Meehan

Maria Montessori believed in giving students a cosmic education, an education that develops student’s awareness of the universe, and the knowledge that everything within the universe is connected and interdependent. In her book, To Educate the Human Potential, Dr. Montessori explains that, "We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are a part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.” (Montessori, 1973, p.6) Montessori believed that by giving the child a picture of the universe, and how each and every part of the universe has a task that is dependent on one another, the child’s once aimless need for knowledge would be satisfied.

The Five Great Lessons are the imaginative stories told by the teacher to elementary students at the beginning of each year to give an overall impression of broad topics such as the universe, the beginning of earth, the beginning of life, the creation of language, and the creation of mathematics. The first three Great Lessons, The Story of the Universe, The Coming of Life, and the Coming of Humans, all have distinct connections to the history and science curriculum. Each of these Great Lessons leads students to ask a series of cosmic questions. Dr. Montessori states:

"No matter what we touch, an atom, or a cell, we cannot explain it without knowledge of the wide universe. What better answer can be given to those seekers for knowledge? It becomes doubtful whether even the universe will suffice. How did it come into being? How will it end? A greater curiosity arises, which can never be satiated; so will last through a lifetime. The laws governing the universe can be made interesting and wonderful to the child, more interesting even than things in themselves, and he begins to ask: What am I? What is the task of man in this wonderful universe? Do we merely live here for ourselves, or is there something more for us to do? Why do we struggle and fight? What is good and evil? Where will it all end?" (Montessori, 1973, p. 6)

Giving dramatic and memorable lessons on these topics sparks an interest in students, leading them to ask cosmic questions such as the ones Dr. Montessori stated above. Through additional key lessons, experiments, and research, students may find the answers to some of these cosmic questions.

Many of the Great Lessons have a series or key lessons given by the teacher or experiments that can be completed individually on in small groups, that answer questions that students may have thought of during the Great Lesson. Dr. Montessori explains that, "Not only can imagination travel through infinite space, but also through infinite time; we can go backwards through the epochs, and have the vision of the earth as it was, with the creatures that inhabited it." (Montessori, 1973, p.10)

The five great lessons span a period of about 15 million years and cover the following topics:

  1. The First Great Lesson, The Creation of the Universe, introduces students to the formation of the universe, stars, our solar system, and the development of Earth.
  2. The Second Great Lesson, The Coming of Life, introduces students to Earth's earliest inhabitants and how they adapted over time.
  3. The Third Great Lesson, The Coming of Humans, introduces students to the evolution of humans.
  4. The Fourth Great Lesson, The History of Writing, explains how writing was invented and evolved.
  5. The Fifth Great Lesson, The History of Mathematics, explains how humans invented numbers and mathematics, as well as how it has evolved over time.

- Sinead Meehan, Lower Elementary Head Teacher

  • curriculum
  • elementary
  • five great lessons