When researching schools for your preschooler or eavesdropping on parents at the playground, you will likely hear about Montessori. But what is the Montessori approach, exactly?

The International Montessori Index describes Montessori as “a revolutionary method of observing and supporting the natural development of children… that helps children develop creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and time-management skills, care of the environment and each other, and prepares them to contribute to society and to become fulfilled persons.”

Montessori refers to a curriculum and educational philosophy developed by Maria Montessori. As a practicing physician who specialized in pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of Rome, she conducted a side experiment in 1907, starting a daycare center in the slums for working-class children aged 2-5 years old.

Montessori observed the children to study how they learned, and according to The Montessori Foundation, she was amazed to see that the children enjoyed learning “practical everyday living skills that reinforced their independence and self-respect.” What she learned at the daycare center became the basis for what would come to be known as the “Montessori approach.”

According to The Montessori Foundation, “Montessori is credited with the development of the open classroom, individualized education, manipulative learning materials, teaching toys, and programmed instruction.”

The Montessori approach today

In today’s Montessori school, you will see:

  • Teachers who are certified through an accredited Montessori teacher education program.
  • Teachers serving each student’s individual needs and interests to make progress with the curriculum, rather than using a planned daily lesson.
  • Teachers who facilitate independent learning and creativity.
  • Classrooms that include students of mixed ages, with a two to three year variance in age (the early childhood age range is 2.5-6 years).
  • Classrooms designed with the size of the students in mind, including small furniture and materials (depending on the ages of the classroom’s students).
  • An environment that is arranged by subject (i.e. animals, art, reading, cooking).
  • An open environment that may include rugs for floor seating and tables for group work (not individual desks), and open shelving for materials.
  • Students who select, retrieve, and put away their own lessons (based on what the school and its teachers have prepared for the classroom).

If you determine the Montessori approach to education is right for your child, remember that true Montessori schools are committed to the entire approach and not a few handpicked principles.

This information was used with permission of The International Montessori Index.


  • Montessori is an approach to education developed by Maria Montessori in 1907.
  • Teachers serve each student’s individual needs and interests, rather than using a planned daily lesson.
  • Classrooms include students of mixed ages, with a 2-3 year variance in age.
  • Classes are designed by subject and include an open environment.

Last reviewed by Sara Connolly, MD. Review Date: January 2019


  1. The Montessori Foundation. Dr. Montessori: A Historical Perspective.
  2. The Montessori Foundation. Training To Be A Montessori Teacher.
  3. The International Montessori Index.
  4. American Montessori Society. Montessori Terminology.
  5. American Montessori Society. Montessori Classroom.


  1. I like the Montessori approach. I’ve always found it to be the most expensive though. Is there a reason it’s so much more expensive?

    1. Alexe it is true that many Montessori schools are private (I wonder if they are bit more because of the low teacher:student ratios?), but there are some public (free!) ones I have seen. It might be worth looking into in your area if you are interested. Even if your child doesn’t attend a Montessori school, there are lots of ways to incorporate Montessori principles into your home as well. Pinterest has tons of ideas!

      1. Most Montessori schools are private… but in South Florida, we have a magnet Montessori that is public. (It’s a lottery system, so very hard to get into.) The issue with Montessori schools being public is that true Montessori programs don’t necessarily allow for standardized testing and the curriculum mandated these days… So the few public Montessori schools out there are modified Montessoris (you won’t see mixed ages, for example, and they do have to comply with standardized testing).

    2. Supposedly the Montessori materials can be very expensive… But the Montessori schools in South Florida are about the same price as other highly-desired preschools.

  2. I loved reading this Dr. Sara! My son is in a toddler Montessori program and we all love it. I definitely had no idea what Montessori really meant until I did my own research – wish I had this when we were looking!


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