Young children sit on the floor, bent over their toy screws, each deeply focused on executing the same simple task. The room is silent, the mood serious. “Your work period is ending,” says a woman who’s clearly in charge. “Now, you can eat your lunch.” Is this a rare glimpse inside a factory powered by child labor? Not at all. You’ve just entered the wide, quiet world of Montessori.
Silence reigns at Montessori schools by design. The Montessori approach is child-centered — encouraging children to be independent and learn at their own pace. Montessori views children’s play as work and respects their independence and natural curiosity. To that end, the emphasis is on allowing children to learn from their own mistakes and to figure out how to do things on their own rather than relying on an adult to tell them. Teachers model behavior to teach care and respect, and they introduce new challenges once old ones have been surmounted. They also focus on teaching organization, strategy, and good habits. Physical activity is a large part of a Montessori curriculum, with moving and learning being innately linked; there is also a strong focus on multisensory learning. When Italian educator Maria Montessori opened her first school in 1907, these were radical ideas. Today, Montessori has grown to be among the most popular forms of early childhood education.
Montessori schools typically cater to younger kids — mostly preschoolers, but you’ll sometimes find Montessori-based elementary schools, and in rare cases you’ll find Montessori middle and high schools, too.