What's Different About Montessori Education?

posted by Baker Galloway

What do the founders of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft all have in common? They each attended Montessori Schools!

This is the second post in a series on different educational models. A school's vision for the purpose of education will inform the structure of the learning model, and every decision large or small that teachers and administrators make on a day-to-day basis. The scope of these decisions will include design of the school itself; and so it's critical that we as architects understand the educational paradigm of our school clients if we are to effectively deliver facilities that support their purposes. 

Distinctives of Montessori Education

Brief: Fan each child's inner flame to learn and to develop; nurture a life-long love of learning.

  • no competing for grades; learning is its own reward.
  • mixed-age classrooms
  • self-paced, individualized learning environment
  • grab student interest in a subject while it's hot; don't pressure when it's cold. 
  • emphasis on curiosity, creativity
  • hands-on, tactile learning

A 3 hour Montessori work cycle. © Lindsay Palmer Photography

If you're like me, you'll be amazed at what a 4-year-old can accomplish with almost no external direction given by an adult. Montessorians believe that children are intrinsically motivated to learn, to create, and to bring order to the world around them – they just need a little preparatory direction and a prepared environment and they will be off!

In the video above, you can see the following dynamics at work:

  • Independent, Self-Guided Activities
  • Hands-On, Tactile Learning
  • Cleaning Up is a Priority

A Proper Introduction to Montessori

Montessori (pronounced MON-tuh-SORE-ee) is a comprehensive educational approach from birth to adulthood based on the observation of children's needs in a variety of cultures all around the world.

Beginning her work almost a century ago, Dr. Maria Montessori developed this educational approach based on her understanding of children's natural learning tendencies as they unfold in "prepared environments" for multi-age groups (0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and 12-14).

The Montessori environment contains specially designed, manipulative "materials for development" that invite children to engage in learning activities of their own individual choice. Under the guidance of a trained teacher, children in a Montessori classroom learn by making discoveries with the materials, cultivating concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning.

Today, Montessori schools are found worldwide, serving children from birth through adolescence. In the United States, there are more than 4,000 private Montessori schools and more than 200 public schools with Montessori-styled programs. The Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), founded by Maria Montessori in 1929, maintains Montessori educational principles and disseminates Montessori education throughout the world.

Source: North American Montessori Teachers' Association

The Ideal Montessori Classroom

The Classroom

An ideal Montessori classroom is sunny and airy but draft-free, with low windows, a tile or wood floor, and about forty square feet per child. Ideally, washrooms are located just off the classroom with child-sized toilets and low sinks. Classrooms are often finished with acoustical ceiling tile and curtains in cool pastels. Child-height water sources and drinking fountains are nice features, along with low light switches. A separate entrance with a cloakroom, plus an adjacent teacher office and storage space, are characteristic of classrooms built for Montessori. Even in large schools, modular classrooms open up to individual outdoor spaces, with interior alcoves and discrete spaces which help create a "house for children" atmosphere.

Square Footage

Classrooms generally consist of approximately 40 square feet per child with both carpeted and wet space with sinks in the room. Wet space is usually about 400 square feet to accommodate lunch.


Furniture styles are varied in design. Tables can have different shapes, including rectangles, squares, ovals, trapezoids. Chairs should be matched to table height, which varies according to the age level of the class. Shelving, whether painted or natural wood, should be light in color, child-sized, and not in excess of eight inches wide for easy access.


Enriched outdoor environments include a natural habitat and adjacent gardening and activity space for each classroom. Pick-up/drop off traffic access, benches for waiting children, child-sized picnic tables, and safe playgrounds are other aspects to consider.

Source: NAMTA

For more in this series: