of interest: Montessori realized that if children spend
too much time on a complex task or fail to master necessary
details, the exercise ceases to interest them. She suggested
that points of interest be interspersed throughout each
activity. These points guide the child toward the goal
and stimulate repetition and interest by offering immediate
feedback, or what Montessori called “control of error.” The
child’s performance becomes refined through trial
and error, the points of interest acting as signposts along
the path to success.
Prepared environment: The Montessori classroom is an environment
prepared by the adult for children. It contains all the
essentials for optimal development but nothing superfluous.
These include order and reality, beauty and simplicity.
Everything is child-sized to enhance the children’s
independent functioning. A trained adult and a large enough
group of children of mixed ages make up a vital part of
the prepared environment.
Presentation: The teacher does not teach in the traditional
sense, but rather shows the child how to use the various
objects and then leaves them free to explore and experiment.
This is called a presentation. To be effective, it must
be done slowly and exactly, step by step, and with a minimum
Psychic embryo: The first three years of life is a period
of mental concentration, just as the nine months in utero
is a period of physical creation. The brain awaits experience
in the environment to flesh out the genetic blueprint.
Since so much mental development occurs after birth, Montessori
called the human infant a psychic embryo.
Repetition: The young child’s work is very different
from the adult’s. When an adult works, he sets out
to accomplish some goal and stops working when the objective
is achieved. A child, however, does not work to accomplish
an external goal, but rather an internal one. Consequently,
they will repeat an activity until the inner goal is accomplished.
The unconscious urge to repeat helps the child to coordinate
a movement or acquire some ability.
Sensitive periods: Young children experience transient
periods of sensibility and are intrinsically motivated
or urged to activity by specific sensitivities. A child
in a sensitive period is believed to exhibit spontaneous
concentration when engaged in an activity that matches
a particular sensitivity. For example, children in a sensitive
period for order will be drawn to activities that involve
ordering. They will be observed choosing such activities,
becoming deeply concentrated, sometimes repeating the activity
over and over, without reward or encouragement. Young children
are naturally drawn to aspects in the environment that
meet their developmental needs.
Sensorial materials: The sensorial materials were created
to help children in the process of creating and organizing
their intelligence. Each scientifically designed material
isolates a quality found in the world such as color, size,
shape, etc., and this isolation focuses the attention on
this one aspect. The child, through repeated manipulation
of these objects, comes to form clear ideas or abstractions.
What could not be explained by words, the child learns
by experience working with the sensorial materials.
Simple to complex: A principal used in the sequence of
presentations in a Montessori classroom. Children are first
introduced to a concept or idea in its simplest form. As
they progress and become capable of making more complex
connections, they are eventually able to handle information
that is less isolated.
Socialization: “The process by which the individual
acquires the knowledge and dispositions that enable him
to participate as an effective member of a social group
and a given social order.” (Osterkorn, 1980, p. 12) “Optimal
social learning takes place when the children are at different
ages.” (Hellbrugge, 1979, p. 14)
Sound games: Many children know the alphabet but have
not analyzed the sounds in words nor are they aware that
words are made up of separate sounds (phonemic awareness).
From the age of two (or as soon as the child is speaking
fluently) sound games can make them aware of the sounds
in words. In England, they use the nursery game, “I
Spy.” The sound of the letter and not the letter
name is pronounced.
Three hour work cycle: Through years of observation around
the world, Montessori understood that children, when left
in freedom, displayed a distinct work cycle that was so
predictable, it could even be graphed. This cycle, with
two peaks and one valley, lasted approximately three hours.
In Montessori schools, children have three hours of open,
uninterrupted time to choose independent work, become deeply
engaged, and repeat to their own satisfaction.
Three period lesson: “The famous three period lesson
of Sequin” (Standing, 1957, p. 307) is actually quite
simple. The first period is Naming: “This is thick.
This is thin.” The second period is Recognition: “Give
me the thick. Give me the thin.” The third period
consists of The Pronunciation of the Word: “What
is this?” In three simple steps, the entire learning
process is brought into play. The three period lesson is
used for giving language.
Vocabulary enrichment: The young child’s vocabulary
increases exponentially in the years from 3-6. To feed
this natural hunger for words, vocabulary is given: the
names of biology, geometry, geography, and so forth, can
be learned as well as the names of qualities found in the
sensorial material. The child’s absorbent mind takes
in all these new words “rapidly and brilliantly.” (Montessori,
1946, p. 10)
Work: From an evolutionary perspective, the long period
of childhood exists so children can learn and experiment
in a relatively pressure-free environment. Most social
scientists refer to this pressure-free experimentation
as “play,” although Montessori prefers to call
this activity the “work” of childhood. Children
are serious when engaged in the kind of play that meets
developmental needs. Given freedom and time, they choose
purposeful activities over frivolous ones.
Writing to reading: In a Montessori environment, children
usually begin writing before they can read. They are keen
to create words with a box of loose letters (the moveable
alphabet) or write their words with chalk or pencil. About
six months later, they begin to understand what reading
means, and they do so only through associating it with
writing. (Montessori, 1936/1983, p. 142)
Groos, K. (1901) The Play of Man. New York: Appleton.
Haines, A. (1993). Absorbent Mind Update. NAMTA Journal
Hellbrugge, T. (1979) Early Social Development. The
NAMTA Quarterly. 4.3
Montessori, M. (1983). The Secret of Childhood. (B.B.
Carter, Trans.) Hyderabab, India: Sangram Books. Original
work published 1936.
Montessori, M. (1966). The Discovery of the Child. (Mary
Johnstone, Trans.) Madias, India: Kalakshetra Publications.
(Original work published 1943).
Montessori, M.M. (1966). The Human Tendencies and
Montessori Education. Amsterdam: AMI.
Montessori, M. (1946). Dr. Maria
Training course held in London. Unpublished lectures, property
of Association Montessori Internationale.
Osterkorn, J. (1980). Socialization and the Development
of Self Concept. NAMTA Quarterly. 5.3
Standing, E.M. (1957) Maria Montessori: Her Life and
Work. NY: New American Library.
The Compact Oxford English Dictionary, second ed. (1991)
Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Annette Haines, Ed.D. holds
both AMI primary and elementary diplomas. She also obtained
degree in English literature from Washington University,
and master’s and Ph.D. in education from Cleveland
State University and Southern Illinois University respectively.
Annette is Director of Training at the Montessori Training
Copyright 2005 AMI/USA. Reprinted with permission. No
part of this publication may be reproduced for any purpose,
whether private or public, without the express written
permission of the Association Montessori International
of the United States of America, Inc.
Additional Montessori terminology provided by the Teachers
at Montessori in Redlands
Assessment: For parent-teacher conferences, each child
is evaluated on his or her progress in the ESLR’s.
Teachers also meet regularly with their students to discuss
work and work habits, giving the child a chance to self-evaluate.
Teachers keep records of each child’s lessons, projects
and progress. They know who has had which lesson, who has
mastered a lesson, who needs a repeat lesson, and who is
ready for the next lesson.
Conflict resolution: Through progress in moral and character
development, students learn an awareness of and appreciation
for the “greater good” as criteria for decision-making
and problem solving.
Developmental Planes: Levels of child development specific
These are the stages upon which lessons and the ESLRs are
Expected Schoolwide Learning Results (ESLR’s): These
are standards defined within the Montessori curriculum
that every age level is expected to achieve. They form
the basis of the educational program for every student
at MIR. They address six categories: Sensorial, Practical
Life, Language, Mathematics and Science, Cultural Subjects,
Moral and Character Development.
Great Lessons: These are five major stories dramatizing
the known truths of the universe and the progression of
human civilization. The “Great Lessons” include
the earth’s creation, the beginning of life, the
coming of human beings, and language and mathematics as
tools of human communication. The law and order of the
universe gradually becomes clear to the children through
each successive story.
Guide: The philosophical approach to teaching in the Montessori
classroom. Often, the teacher is referred to as the Guide
in the classroom.
Materials: Montessori has special and specific materials
designed to accomplish goals within each of the ESLR framework.
Each material has a specific use designed to accomplish
a specific goal.
Montessori method: This refers to the Montessori philosophy
and specific approach to teaching, learning and use of
Moving up: Also known as “transition,” this
is the move from one level to the next: Toddler to Primary,
Primary to Elementary, Elementary to Middle School.
Service: Students learn about service through “jobs” provided
in the Montessori environment often applied to the classroom,
school or community. Beginning in the elementary years,
service work hours are required as part of the curriculum.
Most often, this involves the student working in the classrooms
of younger students.
Work Diary: A daily or weekly log kept by the student
of work accomplished. The record book includes all subjects
studied, lessons given, activities done, teacher/student
conferences, and group activities.