What is a Montessori School?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A Montessori school is a school developed in the early 20th century, on the principles of Dr. Maria Montessori. These schools are a way of teaching children that is completely child centered and child directed. Though early schools were generally for nursery school and primary grade levels, there are now numerous ones that teach up to grade 12.

Until recently, Montessori schools were known for not assigning homework.
Until recently, Montessori schools were known for not assigning homework.

The principal methods in a Montessori school emphasize several important beliefs. The first is that children have the capacity to direct their own learning. Second, children do not learn in the same manner as do adults, and not all children have the same learning methods. Children should be the “masters” of their environment, and schoolrooms are specifically prepared for this mastery. Exercises and equipment should be self-correcting so a child learns from his/her own mistakes and moves forward. Lastly the child determines the educational pace.

In many Montessori schools, children can direct some of their own learning.
In many Montessori schools, children can direct some of their own learning.

The Montessori school focuses much on hands on approaches to learning. Children should be allowed to interact, as much as possible, with all five senses in learning approaches. Most of these schools have a variety of hands on activities, and may offer opportunities to care for animals, to prepare food or to garden, as well as natural activities, like sweeping and cleaning.

Montessori schools teach children all the way up to grade 12.
Montessori schools teach children all the way up to grade 12.

Letter grades are usually not a part of the Montessori school approach. Dr. Montessori felt that grades encourage unnatural and unhealthy competition that interferes with learning. Instead, students may be assessed by acquired skills. Today such a school may offer grades since many parents feel they are necessary to assess the child from a scholastic standpoint. This can also be helpful for students who complete a 13-year education in a Montessori school, since grades are an important consideration of most colleges.

Most Montessori schools in the United States are private and have a high tuition.
Most Montessori schools in the United States are private and have a high tuition.

There have been noted critics of the Montessori school approach, yet it is popular enough to have over 8000 schools in the US alone. Common criticism of Montessori methods sometimes register concern that certain students will not master all areas of scholastic importance if they remain uninterested in them. Some Montessori students have admitted difficulties with mathematics because they didn’t “have to” learn it. On average, the Montessori student tends to perform as well or better than those educated in traditional public schools. Math problems are not exclusive to Montessori students.

Montessori school methods have also been criticized for not assigning homework. Some schools do now assign homework, but some critics are concerned about the transition required when students move to schools where homework is required. This is an ongoing debate that involves more than Montessori methods. A few districts that are in other ways traditional have now outlawed homework, which has in general seen a sharp incline since the No Child Left Behind Act. A proponent of the Montessori method would argue that children are constantly learning, and thus being at home is a learning experience.

Most Montessori schools in the US are private, and many come with high tuition. A few public school districts have attempted to introduce the Montessori concepts into mainstream public schools. This has not met with complete success, since Montessori often implies the antithesis of traditional public schooling, where so much reliance is placed on students achieving at the same rate, and mastering certain skills at certain points. Some public charter schools are still attempting to bring Montessori concepts into mainstream education, which may prove interesting to watch.

Students may set their own curriculum and explore their interests with guidance from their instructors.
Students may set their own curriculum and explore their interests with guidance from their instructors.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Thank goodness the montessori I want to send my child to is authentic and my her godmother's daughter goes there. I can't believe people will try to cheat the system like that.


I am a former Montessori student myself. I attended the school from Pre-K until sixth grade, where I was forced into a public school. I am now a sophomore in high school. I have never had any problems with keeping up the other students- in fact, I have a solid 4.0 GPA and a 101.4 average (weighted after AP classes).

No parent should worry that the Montessori teaching system leaves a student unprepared. In fact, I think the Montessori schools are much better than the public education systems that currently exist. I highly recommend this program to anyone who wants their child to attend this type of school.


sounds very interesting. I wouldn't mind having my children try this type of school out. If it doesn't work I could always put them in a regular school. Not every school will be right for your child. that's why you have to try different schools and settings and see what best fits your children.


Parents should always assume ultimate responsibility for everything for their children. Whether an education is free or has a tuition fee does not take the parent out of the equation.

Make yourself informed when making all decisions- you did when you bought a car and car seat (I hope!). Montessori is truly amazing, but does not pretend to be for everyone- and yes never, ever trust any facility or school at face value and remain involved and asking questions.

Educators need support and the best of them always need feedback.


My daughter has been in a public charter Montessori school since age five, and I am thrilled with her progress. Not only is she "mastering" the required academics but she is being taught how to be a responsible, productive member of her community. I think it's important to note that Montessori is a way of learning which begins as early as toddler-age.


Virginia: Our 2 1/2 year old son is in a certified Montessori school. they meet state guidelines as well as strictly following the Montessori curriculum. We have several similar schools in our area, all on the same platform and all very well known for their excellence in learning. My son went from being an overactive child who could not pay attention, to one who is now reserved, has manners, and is eager to help around the house. It has been a wonderful experience for him and I am pleased with his progress. The yearly tuition looks to be a bit much, but if you divide it down monthly, then weekly and then hourly, our tuition is about five dollars an hour. I could not pay a qualified teacher to watch my son for that price. In my view, the cost, is worth the long term gain.


We were paying $761 a month for the Montessori School of Aurora here in CO. Our only child attended the school from age 3 to 6 with her last year being "Advanced Kindergarten."

Within a week of her being in first grade in our neighborhood school, we were told that she needed to repeat kindergarten. The teacher gave us a pamphlet with the state standards for kindergarten and sure enough, our daughter hadn't been exposed to 75 percent of the concepts. We're now suing the Montessori because they said in their handbook that after completing their "Advanced Kindergarten" program, students will be successful in a public, private or a Montessori first grade program. My advice to every parent is to go to your school district's website and look up the state standards for your child's grade level. If we had done that, we wouldn't be in this situation now.

It's hard to explain to your child they need to repeat kindergarten after they've gone through the kindergarten graduation ceremony. It emotionally hurt our child. Private schools aren' held to state standards here in CO. When I talked to the Montessori about the situation, they argued that she did know the material/concepts. After demanding the owner test my daughter, she agreed that she needed to repeat. They didn’t even know my daughter was behind, but they were quick to cash our check every month.


Us too! Beware of schools that "say" that they are Montessori. The name Montessori is not trade marked- so anyone (even day cares) can us it. In our area (Minnesota- Northwest), for a solid Montessori school it is $575-$750 for half day, per month.


i really wanted to put my son in montessori preschool, but have been so disappointed to find that they're all so expensive!

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