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What Is Montessori Preschool? Finally, Montessori Explained

Because of its unique learning style, with more than a century of education to back its use, the popularity of Montessori preschool is growing among parents. By definition, the Montessori Philosophy teaches a progressive curriculum that uses child-directed learning, backed by observation and scientific research, as its core value. Instead of being traditionally taught, kids are encouraged to make their own choices in the classroom, with a teacher to guide them along the way.

At the center of Montessori education is self-direction. Most Montessori education is hands-on and encourages plenty of play and collaborative activities with the other kids in the class. Mixed-age classrooms teach children how to work together and learn from each other as they master life skills.

The origins of the Montessori method

Italian educator and physician Maria Montessori founded the Montessori movement in 1907 based on the idea that “play” is a child’s work and that learning should happen naturally through real-life experiences.

More: Want Your Kids to Do Well in School? It Could Come Down to Their Friends

Montessori concluded that children are highly motivated to learn and teach themselves when placed in a carefully designed environment and given the opportunity to work for long, uninterrupted periods of time.

In a Montessori preschool, children are grasping the same concepts as their peers in a traditional classroom, but the idea is for children to learn individually and at their own pace by moving freely around the room and choosing from a wide range of hands-on, age-appropriate activities that are designed to teach specific skills. “The primary goal of Montessori classes is to help children learn concentration, motivation, self-discipline and a love of learning,” reads the website of the Arlington County Schools’ Montessori program.

What type of learning style is Montessori?

Montessori schools aim to create a calm, child-centered learning environment with an emphasis on personal responsibility. Children are encouraged to take care of their own belongings and personal needs, such as cleaning up after themselves and preparing their own snacks. Schools aim to foster a healthy self-esteem and sense of independence, allowing children to make their own choices and teaching them basic skills like pouring themselves a glass of milk or putting their shoes on the right feet.

“Learning moves from concrete to abstract, from the big picture to small. The child makes the connection or abstraction when he or she is ready,” says Elissa Myers, a Montessori teacher at The Beddow School.Teachers at a Montessori preschool serve primarily as guides to discovery rather than providing direct instruction. “The teacher makes a connection between the instructional materials, and the children literally self-teach many skills, in independent activity,” explains Heike Larson, vice president of parent outreach at LePort Schools, a group of seven Montessori schools in California.

“Children can choose their own work, but it does not mean there isn’t any structure. The classroom is very structured in its design and in how a lesson is taught. However, the child is given the freedom to learn how to make choices and do work that is engaging to him or her,” Myers adds.

Next Up: Is a Montessori preschool right for your child?

Originally published July 2013. Updated May 2017.

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