Montessori Educational Alternative

Maria Montessori was one of the most known and admired personalities from the first half of the 20th century, having contributed to a lot of domains: medicine, psychiatry, anthropology, science education, promotion of women’s emancipation, of peace, of international recognition of children’s rights, promotion of the reform in education which improves social progress, all her contributions being recognised by the mass-media, by cultural and political personalities, by governments and international institutions.[4]

One proof, in this sense, is the fact that she was three times nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace (in 1949, in 1950 and 1951). The Montessori International Association that she founded along with her son, in 1929, has its headquarters in Amsterdam. Maria Montessori considered that one was unique, being born with abilities that could help him accomplish his own task in contributing to the progress of humanity. Education should help make this task be responsibly assumed and freely realised, with full satisfaction. At the beginning of 1907, on the 6th of January, the first institution called “Casa dei Bambini” (Children’s House) to use the new method of education initiated by Maria Montessori, was inaugurated. At present, after 100 years from the beginnings of applying this method of education, the Montessori pedagogy is used in 22000 schools from 101 countries all over the world. The most of them are for children aged between 3 and 6 and between 6 and 12. However, there are also many nursery schools and schools for the inferior level of secondary education (12-15 years old) and for the superior level of the secondary school (15-18 years old).

Maria Montessori, the first female doctor in Italy, succeeds in 1907 in forming the basis of an alternative pedagogy – the Montessori Method, which is founded on a series of specific principles: the specially arranged educational environment, groups of children aged between 3 and 7 – heterogeneous from the point of view of their age, training supports organised on four development areas, specially designed in order to be used by the child – individually or in group – after being presented to him, the intensive training of the teachers – lasting one school year, 5 days a week, 8 hours a day making up a large number of classes for both the theoretical and practical preparation. At these, hours of study, reading, reflection, working on their own materials and doing practical work in what concerns watching the children, are added.

1. Principles

”Never do for a child that which he can do alone.” (Maria Montessori)

We can distinguish several categories of principles that guide the Montessori method in knowing the child, designing education and its practical implementation, appropriate for their age, capacities and needs of physical, mental, cultural and spiritual development, principles that are consistent with the scientific and quality standards which currently apply in education.

a) First it is necessary to observe from the scientific point of view the child’s life and activity. Educators need to be highly prepared on the professional level, multidisciplinary, with interest, with love for the children and responsibility. They must train their sense of observation. In the preparation of the montessoriens the activity of child observation is required and its practice is carefully monitored and evaluated. [1]

b) It is necessary to recognize the possibility of educating any human being and to award respect and full confidence for the ability of each child to be educated and especially to be self-educated. The trained adult and the educational environment, specially arranged, must provide the essential conditions and of high quality for these capabilities to be fulfilled. The lack of knowledge and respect for this ability of the children leads to the imposing of conditions and requirements of adults, so that school is not designed to serve the child’s development but the child must serve school structures and requirements designed for adults in accordance with their present status.

c) It is necessary to identify ideas and techniques of scientific understanding of man and society, culture and civilization of the time, which can respond effectively to the problems that education brings into the present time.

d) A certain moral stand is necessary, which values the child and which is manifested by respect, trust, patience and unconditional love to any child. Another category of more specific principles is aimed at the way in which we must steer education.

1) Education is an aid for life and it meets the requirements of the child, “Help me do it myself!” by which his ability to be independent and active grows. At the same time, the ability to self educate is manifested, starting from raising awareness, training motivation and up to independent action, the realization of self-control and the achievement of inner satisfaction. That is why the Montessori pedagogy is concerned with understanding the needs and trends specific to every human being, which must by satisfied by education.

2) Education is a process that accompanies and contributes to the life of the individual from birth, continuously and differentiated according to the various stages. Maria Montessori emphasizes that, in „the formation of the human”, which is also his real life, we can distinguish four levels of development (0-6 years, 6-12 years, 12-18 years, 18-24 years), each with two stages (of 3 years), in which the capabilities, needs and perspectives of formation and assertion are differentiated. These levels of development support each other in a sequence specific the life of the individual and build personality in all its complexity.

3) Education is differentiated and successive, specific to the individual and is conducted in stages, so that it is appropriate for the stage of development and to the specific of personal development, in order to help, stimulate and lead to the full development of each individual. For each phase of education goals, curriculum, activities, materials are specific. The educator has special training but must also have assimilated the preparation for the previous stage, as the student went through the previous stage of education. This enables the recovery or training with materials and activities specific to the previous stage giving the necessary training for progress, self-control in taking on further educational tasks.

4) Education is achieved in a procedural and systematic manner through the interconnection and interrelation of three factors: the child (the one who is educated), the adult (the one that educates and is prepared, professionally qualified for it) and the educational environment (by which we educate the one in a certain stage of development, which is prepared especially by adults in this respect, for use by children). For each of these three factors: the child, the educational environment, the adult, there are significant issues that are characteristic for the design of the Montessori Method.

1.1. Educational environment, specially arranged

Arranging the educational environment must meet several conditions: to be attractive, stimulating and interesting; to ensure peace and protection; to give security and comfort; to enable and encourage independence, self-control, self-discipline; to meet the multiple needs of children development. That is why the educational environment is prepared by the adult, by the educators, who must take into consideration what is necessary and to avoid what is unnecessary, because the environment is not intended for external assessments, from the adults, whether they are even parents who are used with other criteria for assessing the quality of an environment for children, for example, to be loaded with all sorts of toys, cartoon images, for it to be very colorful and „fun.”

The educational environment is ready to meet the needs of physical, intellectual, social and emotional development of children, providing incentives and support for self-education, teaches children to live in society being safe and having freedom. The educational environment is complex but not loaded, include elements of civilization and nature. The outer space is arranged for different types of activities: experiences with water, sand, movement and balance; gardening, observing plants and animals, etc. The class space must be sufficiently large to include furniture, development materials placed according to areas, the place for the ellipse necessary for walking in balance and other joint activities, plants, quality pictures, water source etc. The class should be light, sufficiently heated because the work will also be done down on the mats.

1.2. Development Material

An important and characteristic component of the educational environment and of the Montessori method, the development material is organized into areas of development, is specifically designed for use by the child (individually or in a group), after being presented (introduced in the child’s activity by a scientifically rigorous type of lesson designed and built with technical precision and in an attractive way).[3]

  • The area for „practical life” consists of all the sets that serve the personal care activities, caring for the environment, learning the rules of social life (exercises of „grace and courtesy”), dining place (for some children, they will eat in turns)
  • The area for „sensory development” includes sets of exercises designed to refine the senses, which provide „keys” to understanding the real world and engage the spirit of observation, the capacity of self-control;
  • The area for „language development” includes special materials for the assimilation and development of the language of all types: hearing, speaking, reading, writing;
  • The area for „mathematics” includes materials for learning the numbers, the writing of figures, for the assimilation and use of the basis of the decimal system, for arithmetic operations a.s.o.

Within these main areas there are many materials that are intended for the knowledge of nature (plants, animals); the knowledge of geographical elements (forms of land and water, the Earth, the globe with continents, puzzles with the countries on the continent where the child lives); materials for the knowledge of certain aspects of cultural and social life (painters and their work, composers and their compositions, etc.). For artistic expression there are several materials that serve to practicing decoupages, pasting, various techniques of plastic expression, drawing, painting. [1]

All these materials and others are used according to the order involved and in compliance with the rules for use of materials, in the stages of the exercises and lessons, in the behavior to each other. The development material ensures the order and evolution of activities, which make up a curriculum that is international valid and adapts to the national culture, national or local curriculum requirements. In planning the educational environment we take into account that it is a social environment. [3] Thus a criterion regarding its structure is applied. The group is made-up of children (at the beginning 15 and then gradually up to 25) of different ages, from 2 ½ years and 5-6 years. This composition is closer to the normal social environment of family, of society, where the community consists of people of different ages. And this situation creates the opportunity to stimulate learning, because the young see what the older ones make and are attracted to more complex activities, the older ones acquire the responsibility of showing a work well done, to help or to practice together with the younger children.

At any time they can do over an activity to train and gain certainty. Competition is avoided as well as positive and negative sanctions, which together condition, determine from the outside the activity of the individual, his control, evaluation and satisfaction. In most cases these are obstacles in the child’s education, in taking responsibility and freedom for their own development, the formation of inner motivation, of character. Cooperation is encouraged, which at the level of elementary and high school classes is practiced methodically, for the realization of projects in the assimilation of knowledge and for practical activities, for the social training of the personality.

2. The Montessori Method

Maria Montessori called the educational alternative that she initiated, a „method”, since the first manual, her first presentation (1909) needed for training future teachers. Under this name it is known today to most people, is present in textbooks or encyclopedias of education, pedagogy dictionaries.

Once she saw an expansion and international recognition, Maria Montessori made some clarifications regarding the „method” that bears her name:

First of all „surprising results obtained in our schools” are not due to the application of “a perfect method of education”, the results are due to the absorptive capacity of children’s minds which are in a “creative period of growth” [2] Hence not the invention of processes in education leads to results. They occur only because of the actual capacities of the human being in its development, which acquire the conditions, the possibility to manifest, nurture and fulfill themselves. “To really understand our work it should be considered that the starting point is not a “method of education”, quite the contrary: the method of education is the consequence of being witnessed the development of psychological phenomena which had remained unnoticed and thus were unknown for millennia.”[2]

The discovery of the child, with its specific nature has made possible the establishment of an education that corresponds, actually helps a child’s life, and „education which means support for life is a matter which concerns humanity.” [2] Education and its results therefore depend on early psychological knowledge of the child, of human development, and the result is social, global. Education that meets human development needs to move forward and opportunities for human progress such as had been proposed even by Maria Montessori: „Cosmic Education”, „Peace and Education”, „Reconstruction in Education”, „Education for Freedom.”

Secondly, Maria Montessori recognized that her merit was that she had the scientific training and patience to observe children’s manifestations and learn from them what is necessary, appropriate for their life. The „Method” is therefore not something that was conceived and given to children as an aid, but the other way around, it is what Maria Montessori learned from children that it was necessary, assembled and dealt with scientifically designed materials and activities.

Thirdly, it has been verified as a scientific ‘method’, practiced for 100 years in educating children on all continents regardless of race, social class, health, intellectual ability or cultural level of the family; it has proven its validity, timeliness. The beneficial results of applying the Montessori Method, appropriately for children of different ages, ensure the special quality and effectiveness of this alternative way of education.

The Montessori Method extends today, is addressed in scientific research and in education reform policies, and because it is compatible with the needs and essential skills, general human growth and development capacities of the child and because it meets in a scientific way the high standards of quality required nowadays.

1. Montessori, M. – ,,Mintea absorbantă”, traducere, note Marcel Capraru, Editura APA, Drobeta Turnu Severin, 2006
2. Montessori, M. – ,,Descoperirea copilului”, traducere, note şi comentarii de I.Şulea Firu, EdituraDidactică și Pedagogică, Bucureşti, 1977
3. Demetrescu, A. – ,,Pedagogie aplicată la educatia copiilor de 3-7 ani” – curs complet si practic insotit de indrumari metodice si de Metodele Froebel, Montessori, Decroly, Editura Universul, Bucuresti, 1946
4. Popescu, Dacia (2010). Montessori Educational Alternative. În: Analele Universităţii “Constantin Brâncuşi” din Târgu Jiu, Seria Ştiinţe ale Educaţiei, Nr. 2/2010. Online:



prof. Dacia Popescu

Școala Gimnazială Alexandru Ștefulescu, Târgu-Jiu (Gorj) , România
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