The Montessori Philosophy

An excerpt from a paper by Corliss Campbell, A former lead teacher in the primary classroom at Hawk Meadow Montessori School.

philosophyMaria Montessori (1870-1952) was a remarkable woman of great intelligence, compassion and persistence. A pioneer in the field of child development, whose theories and methods have been validated by much modern research, she is regarded by many “as one of history’s greatest educators” (Crain, p. 74).

At age 26, Maria Montessori became the first woman physician in Italy, and developed her interest in young children while observing patients confined in asylums. She noted that the children displayed a need to manipulate whatever they could find in their bleak surroundings. Drawing from the work of Itard, Seguin and Froebel, Dr. Montessori began to refine her philosophy and her approach to children. Utilizing careful observation of the asylum children and culturally deprived children, she experimented with activities and materials to enhance not only the intellectual but the social, emotional and physical development of the young child.

She observed that all children have a natural love of leaning, and an inner need to learn and master skills. There is a spontaneous nature to development by which children learn through observation of and interaction with their environment, other children and adults. Learning is a natural process that requires physical movement and stimulation of the senses. Action and movement are the basis for all learning, and children learn best “by doing”.

Dr. Montessori proposed that education should be based on the principle of love for the child and respect for the child’s natural capabilities. Each child is a unique individual with her own set of needs and an individual learning style. This requires that education be individualized to respect each child’s learning style and allow each individual to learn at her own pace.

A fundamental component in individualized education is the “Prepared Environment,” which is carefully designed and maintained to allow the child to master skills on her own, and promotes the development of self-confidence, independence and “inner peace.” This environment is child-sized, with furniture and materials scaled to the child’s physical and developmental needs. It is arranged to provide freedom of movement and personal freedom: freedom to select one’s own tasks, freedom to work at one’s own pace, and freedom to continue at a task as long as the work has appeal. The child is intrinsically motivated to select activities that meet his inner needs and finds great satisfaction in accomplishing such tasks.

The Prepared Environment includes children of a variety of ages, exposing the child to a more “real world” situation than a single age group … Children learn from interacting with one another, and from observing the actions and behavior of others. Both younger and older children benefit from this interaction. While the younger children learn new skills and behavior, the older children (the “models” for the younger children) are reinforcing their own skills and self-confidence.


Crain, William. (1992). Theories of Development, Concepts and Applications.
New Jersey: Prentice Hall