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What is Montessori Education?

‘Children are innately interested in learning about the world around them and through their natural curiosity are able to develop themselves. By providing an environment that supports natural development, Montessori education enables children to develop the fundamental capacities that they need to become happy and fulfilled adults who contribute to society.’ (Association Montessori Internationale)

Montessori is an educational method based on self-directed activity, hands on learning and collaborative play. Montessori education is a child centered approach to learning created from scientific observations of children from birth to adulthood. The model of learning is ‘constructivist’ where children learn concepts from working with materials and within spaces, rather than by direct instruction from teachers.

What does a Montessori classroom or space look like?

Montessori education involves free activity within a ‘prepared environment’ and all items within must be scaled appropriate to the child’s age. In a classroom, there is no focal point of the teacher, emphasising the importance of a community and the group. Attractive colours, cultural objects, interesting pictures and items from nature offer children sensory, emotional and intellectual experiences. In a Montessori prepared space, children move freely throughout the environment, having different experiences alone or in groups. Outdoor environments are also very important for Montessori education settings. Within a Montessori classroom, a teacher would not be instructing, but instead offer support where needed, and will observe a child’s individual characteristics, abilities and tendencies.

Who was Maria Montessori?

Maria Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was an Italian physician and anthropologist who devoted her life to understanding how children develop socially, intellectually, physically, and spiritually. Maria Montessori first completed her medical training (and was one of the first women to be granted a diploma of medicine in Italy) before turning to the observations of children and their interaction with the environment and materials – which she called ‘scientific pedagogy’ . She opened her first classroom ‘Casa dei bambini’ in Rome in 1907 and also began to set up training for teachers. Montessori education is essentially a model of human development and a method of education based on that model. She observed that children who were to act freely in an environment properly prepared for them – would develop and learn spontaneously. By observing children all over the world, she identified several characteristics of universal human ‘tendencies’ which are seen as the driving behaviour behind every stage of development. The Montessori style of education should facilitate the expression of these tendencies and allow for learning within.

Planes of development

Planes of development

If you look at the planes, you can see the horizontal line of life, which indicates the age of the child. The lines that form the triangles are the lines of progression and retrogression. Montessori asserted that development is intense at the beginning of a plane, peaks, and then tapers down to the next plane, in preparation for the beginning of a new stage of development. The first plane is arguably the most important and children who have been given the right kind of support during these formative years grow into children who are self-motivated who love learning, and who can think flexibly and creatively. The first six years of life are marked by tremendous physical and psychological growth, exploration and development – which Maria Montessori refers to as the time of the ‘Absorbent Mind’ where the child needs love and acceptance, respect and understanding, warmth and protection.

Parents, nannies and the Montessori philosophy

Maria Montessori was an advocate of proper care within the home or within a nursery setting during the first three years of a child’s life. However, the Montessori method is not limited to nurseries, teachers or schools and there are many ways parents and nannies could work with the Montessori method at home. A nanny could utilise the teachings of Montessori philosophy by:

  • Creating the perfectly prepared space for learning based on the values of Montessori
  • Making sure playrooms have toys or materials that promote independent exploration, sparks young imaginations
  • Ensuring daily socialisation with children of all ages – learning to experience new people naturally
  • Organizing lots of trips outside in nature, in the local park and having this as part of a daily routine
  • Language development – assisting with the use of music, poems and art to help language development

A nanny or parent could also consider taking an accredited course to learn more about Montessori methods that can be applied within the home. In the UK the ‘AMI’ (Association Montessori Internazionale) offers short course and more information can be found here.

Many of our nannies at Nanny Network have completed Montessori pedagogy training courses. You can read all about our available nannies by seeing their profiles which you can search for here.


Standing, E. M. (1957). Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work. New York: Plume

May 18, 2018

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