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Montessori is an international system of education that serves the whole person and spans human development from conception through elder adulthood. Educators are trained to meet individuals where they are and support their social, developmental and intellectual growth, with a focus on designing special environments and utilizing unique materials that appeal to the senses and allow for independent, self-paced work. Research continues to support and confirm the methodology used and continues to inform the more recent applications in elder care.

The foundations of a high-fidelity Montessori learning environment:

  • An environment that is specially prepared for and includes unique materials designed to support individuals within that specific period of development 

  • A group of individuals of mixed ages within a specific period, or plane, of development (i.e. 0-16 months, 16 months-3 years, 3-6 year olds, 6-9 year olds, 9-12 year olds, 12-15 year olds, elders with dementia)

  • A teacher, also called a guide, who is specifically trained in the application of the Montessori method for a specific period of development

Other qualities of Montessori environments include beauty, order, freedom of movement, self-directed activity, and social and hands-on learning that is dynamic and supports the evolution of independence within the individual while informing their identity as a citizen of our interconnected world.


View this chart by Association Montessori Internationale for a comparison between Montessori and mainstream education.

These key principles contribute to the success of Montessori education:

  • Uninterrupted work periods – Self-directed time spent in the prepared environment, usually in 3 hour blocks.

  • Multimodal learning – Learning happens through movement, touch, sight and sound.

  • Mixed age classrooms – Placing children in mixed age groups, corresponding to planes of development, allows them to relate to children who are both older and younger. It also allows for a “confidence interval” around learning in that a child is not labeled as either behind or gifted simply because they acquire a concept a little earlier or a little later than their same age peers.

  • Observation – Observation of the child reveals the proper timing for the presentation of new information and experiences academically, socially and personally.

  • Informed by development – Awareness of the needs and abilities during specific times of development allows for optimal engagement and learning for the child.

  • Classroom community – The classroom experience should build on the desire of the young child to master his or her environment. The classroom community is child-centered rather than adult-centered.

  • Materials – The use of self-correcting materials allows children to manipulate and explore at their own pace and experience satisfaction and develop self-confidence with success.

"Montessori classrooms are beautiful, peaceful, and alive with movement and sound. Order and creativity coexist. Animated conversation and silent observation work together in the same space."

Peek inside a Montessori classroom

courtesy of Inside Montessori! Click

here for their full-length documentary.

Explore Montessori Guide for more beautiful and contemporary videos showcasing inside the classroom.


Montessori education is a comprehensive approach based on the scientific research of Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, educator, and children’s advocate. Initially charged with monitoring the health of a group of children living in a psychiatric clinic, Dr. Montessori researched the educational approaches that her 19th century contemporaries (e.g. Itard and Seguin) were using with children who had special needs. She incorporated some of these principles (primarily a hands-on and sensory-based approach) into her work with the institutionalized children and created an environment with child-sized furniture and materials, separate from the adult environment.


When these children exhibited unprecedented progress and improvements in their learning and overall health and development, Dr. Montessori's method quickly gained international interest. She went on to apply her method in many other schools and to train people from all over the world in this approach, which was replicable with a set of reliable and observable results that includes deep concentration, care for the environment, social grace and courtesy, and much more. 

The Montessori method demonstrated that young children were capable of learning far more than previously believed when their environment was set up as outlined by the method (which included the trained adult, mixed age group, specific materials, and developmentally appropriate freedoms and limits). Over time, the method has expanded to include infants and toddlers, elementary-age children, adolescents, and most recently, elders.  Internationally, Montessori education is the most widely used approach outside of traditional education.


Montessori programs come in all shapes and sizes, from small, home-based programs to large public charter schools. Montessori is not based on or affiliated with any particular religious belief, although some schools may have a religious affiliation. However, there is evidence that the effectiveness of a program largely depends on the fidelity of its implementation of the method, which should reflect Dr. Montessori’s design (article here).


It’s important to note that the Montessori name is not trademarked, so anyone can call their school a Montessori school—regardless of their training in the method or adherence to the foundational principles. In addition to having a prepared classroom environment and children in mixed-age groupings, an authentic Montessori program is led by educators with Montessori training. The most reputable training centers are accredited by MACTE (Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education). See this article to learn more about the characteristics of an authentic Montessori school.

Montessori Public Policy Initiative has published a set of standards for high-fidelity Montessori schools, in accordance with AMI and AMS. View it here in English or Spanish.


OMA does not endorse or certify Montessori schools. We are an umbrella organization that supports all efforts to make Montessori education available to our community.

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