Montessori Theory and Approach to Education

Posted: November 5th, 2022

Montessori Theory and Approach to Education

The Montessori Theory or Approach is a methodology to pedagogy or teaching applied to children and which was first proposed by Maria Montessori in 1912. It has six key pillars or principles which are independence, observation, following the child, correcting the child, a prepared environment, and absorbent mind (Daily Montessori, n.d.). It is an approach to teaching and learning that is heavily grounded in experimental child psychology, of which Maria Montessori was extremely passionate about (Plekhanov, 1992). The method came up as a result of employing keen empiricism amd observation in the process of child development. According to Maria Montessori, all cognition is tied together with the concept of ‘interest’. In coming up with this theory of learning, she placed a lot of emphasis on cognitive processes in child growth, development, and learning (Frierson, 2014). This paper details the principles of the Montessori Method or Approach and argues why it is not the most sensitive to diversity in so far as cognitive developmental theories are concerned. Montessori Theory and Approach to Education


The Key Principles of the Montessori Method

As stated in the introduction, there are six core principles that underpin the Montessori Theory of child learning and pedagogy. They are discussed here below:


The theory states that every child needs to be given independence to do what they feel they want to do, as long as it is not harmful or bad. They should always be allowed to perform tasks themselves and discover things for themselves. In respecting this, an important step is to allow the child to assist adults with tasks. This is how they learn best. In doing the above, the child is made to believe in themselves. They thus develop great self confidence in themselves and strong self-esteem. A foundation for the rest of their lives is thus built by respecting and following this principle (Daily Montessori, n.d.).


Observation, as the name implies, requires that the adult keenly watches the child to understand what drives them. What is important here is that the child’s behavior should be closely studied by the adult so that they can understand what the child needs. For instance, if you observe that a child wants to run around but they are restricted by the small size of the room, you should then take them outside to a field or park where they can have all the freedom to run their heart out. This solution can only be found by close observation (Daily Montessori, n.d.). Montessori Theory and Approach to Education

Following the Child

            The third principle entails following the child. This means that the adult should follow the child’s instincts and what they are thinking. In doing this, the child will inadvertently show you what they want through their actions. You will also learn what areas the child needs help in. The most important thing to know is that if a child is interested in something, it is not because they are aware that they want to learn from it. Rather, they are drawn to the thing because of their inner wants and needs. These are what the adult should try to understand. If the child is running, follow them and allow them to run safely. The child should not be overprotected. They should also not be directed as to what to do. The child should always have the freedom to choose what to do and what they want. Most importantly, the adult should not intervene unless there is a danger yhat the child may hurt themselves or others (Daily Montessori, n.d.).

Correcting the Child

The Montessori Approach advises that when the child makes a mistake, the adult should not raise their voice or scold them. One should not crudely point out their mistakes. Being harsh to them may scare them such that they will fear attempting anything ever again in their life. The child should therefore be corrected nicely and given freedom of choice. They should be supported to meet their needs safely (Daily Montessori, n.d.).

Prepared Environment

The fifth principle in the Montessori Theory is concerned with the child’s environment. The theory spells out that the child’s (learning) environment should be safe and conducive for the child to explore and learn freely. Above all, the environment should be attractive to the children and draw them to play. Montessori recognised that play to children is what work is to adults. Sbe therefore called children’s play “work” in a child’s context. The child’s environment is inclusive of the parents/ teacher and the child’s overall development is dependent on it (Daily Montessori, n.d.).

Absorbent Mind

This is the last principle in Montessori Theory. It states that children below three years do not really learn anything but just absorb everything in their environment though experience and being part of it. The environment is therefore required to be good and positive so that the child can absorb only positive information. Montessori came to the conclusion that the child does this subconsciously without them even knowing it. Furthermore, the language that the adult uses is what the child picks. It is therefore imperative that the adult uses positive language as much as possible around a child (Daily Montessori, n.d.).


Although widely used and effective, the Montessori Method may not be the most sensitive to diversity of the application of foundational cognitive developmental theories. This is so because crom the outset, the theory comes across as prescriptive with no room for processing information and coming up with independent judgement and decisions. Its prescriptions are clear-cut and one has to either follow them or not. There is no in-between.Montessori Theory and Approach to Education

Relationship to the Theories of Learning

The Montessori Method relates very well to the theories of learning of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. While the Montessori Method prescribes how best to instill cognitive development in a child, the theories of learning explain how the child acquires, retains, and recalls the knowledge thus acquired. Based on the work of B.F. Skinner, behaviorism states that knowledge exists outside the child and that the child is blank at birth. An external stimulus is what stimulates the learning of a new behavior in the child. This is relatable to the Montessori Method in that acknowledges that the child has an absorbent mind and passively “absorbs” what is in their environment. Cognitivism as a learning theory on the other hand states that the child actively processes stimuli and does not merely receive and integrate it. Unlike behaviorism, cognitivism is internal. It aligns with the Montessori Theory principles of independence and observation in that the child needs to be given independence in recognition of the fact that they can process information on their own. Observation also acknowledges that the child can make their own decisions and hence all we need to do is observe what they are doing. Lastly, the theory of learning of constructivism states that the child constructs their own reality of the world depending on their personal experiences. This is relatable to the Montessori Method in that we need to prepare the learning environment for the child in appreciation of the fact that they will create their own view of the world from the experience that they will get in that environment (Kelly, 2012).

What Distinguishes Montessori from Piaget and Vygotsky

Jean Piaget divides the child’s cognitive development into four distinct stages based on their age. These are sensorimotor (0-2 years), preoperational (2-7 years), concrete operations (7-11 years), and finally formal operations (11 years and above). This approach differs from the Montessori Approach in that Montessori considers the child’s cognitive learning experience or knowledge acquisition as a continuous seamless venture influenced mire by the external environment rather than dependent on internal sensory or motor impulses. On Lev Vygotsky, it clearly distinguishes itself from the Montessori Method in that it sees cognitive development occurring as the child learns through social interactions. This is different from the Montessori Method that requires that the child be left alone without interference. Social interaction would mean that the parent or teacher actively engages the child, which the Montessori Method advises against (Sample, n.d.).


            Montessori Approach is similar to Jean Piaget’s theory in that the preoperational state of Piaget states that the child is egocentric and thinks that everyone else thinks like them and agrees with what they want. Montessori Method advises that the child should not be instructed but be left to decide what they want to do. This is a striking similarity. The Montessori Method is also similar to Lev Vygotsky’s theory in that Vygotsky places emphasis on cognitive learning from social interactions. The similarity arises ftom the fact that the Montessori Approach recognises the environment as playing an important part in this process. In fact, environmental preparation (in which the social interactions will take olace) is one of the Montessori principles.Montessori Theory and Approach to Education

Lack of Recognition ans Sensitivity to Diversity

The reason why the Montessori Approach is less recognised by researchers in the cognitive and learning fields is that it is radically different from the conventional school system philosophy. It has actually been labeled as “incommensurable” with the conventional system. Furthermore, it is not easy to implement, according yo6some authors (Lillard, 2019).

The origin of Maria Montessori’s interest in child development implies sensitivity to diversity because she embraced learning of all cultures and saw it as a means to ensuring peace in the world through appreciation of each other’s differences. The aspect suggested as making this method diversity sensitive is the fact that yhe Montessori Method can be applicable to almost all cultural backgrounds because it does not recommend any interference with the child’s cognitive development. This indicates its application across diverse populations in the sense that it is inclusive and does not adopt a particular viewpoint that is culturally recognisable.


Daily Montessori (n.d.). Montessori theory. Retrieved 3 May 2020 from

Frierson, P.R. (2014). Maria Montessori’s epistemology. British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 22(4), 767-791. Doi:

Kelly, J. (2012). Learning theories. Retrieved 4 May 2020 from

Lillard, A.S. (2019). Shunned and admired: Montessori, self-determination, and a case for radical school reform. Educational Psychology Review, 31, 939-965.

Plekhanov, A. (1992). The pedagogical theory and practice of Maria Montessori. Russian Education & Society, 34(3), 83-96. Doi:

Sample, I. (n.d.). Comparing Piaget and Vygotsky. Retrieved 4 May 2020 from



Montessori Theory and Approach to Education



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