The Montessori Method

For over 50 years, Greenspring Montessori School has built a tradition of serving children implementing the educational philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and pioneer in child development who observed that children have a innate aptitude and desire for acquiring knowledge about their world. Montessori’s approach of “following the child” is at the root of our philosophy at Greenspring Montessori School.

Dr. Maria Montessori

“Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment.”  –Dr. Maria Montessori

Through scientific observation and experimentation, Dr. Maria Montessori discovered that each child is born with an innate ability and desire to learn. This discovery came at a time when the conventional wisdom portrayed the child as a “tabula rasa,” a blank slate waiting to be written upon. Instead, Montessori asserted that it is the teacher who must pay rapt attention to her students. By observing how the individual children responded to various lessons and materials, she could determine what experiences would aid the child in fulfillment of his or her potential. Montessori’s revolutionary approach of “following the child” is the root of our philosophy at Greenspring Montessori.

Born in 1870, Dr. Montessori was one of the first women in Italy to receive a medical degree.  Dr. Montessori worked in the fields of psychiatry, education and anthropology. She planted the seeds for her career at the age of 13 when, against the wishes of her father, she attended a boys’ technical school. After seven years of engineering, she began pre-med; in 1896 she became a physician and developed a great interest in the treatment of children.

At the age of 37, Dr. Montessori worked with children with severe special needs at the University of Rome’s psychiatric clinic. It was here that she began to develop techniques and materials that enabled these “hopelessly deficient” children to learn. Based on her early successes, she later opened the first “Casa dei Bambini” (or “Children’s House”) in 1907. Working with over 50 impoverished children from the San Lorenzo slum on the outskirts of Rome, she utilized her scientific background to hone the methods and materials that would become respected around the world.

News of the unprecedented success of the Casa dei Bambini soon spread. In 1911, the Montessori method was officially adopted in public schools in Italy and Switzerland. An international training institute was formed to train other educators in Montessori’s methodology. Alexander Graham Bell formed the Montessori American Committee in 1914, bringing this method to the United States. Montessori was asked to create a “glass classroom” at as display at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

Exiled from Italy by Mussolini because she would not pledge loyalty to fascism, Montessori spent several years in Spain and India, where she continued to write, lecture, and train teachers in the Montessori Method. A passionate advocate for peace education, Dr. Montessori was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Since her death in 1952, interest in Dr. Montessori’s methods has continued to spread throughout the world. Her message to those who emulated her was always to “follow the child.”

Education should no longer be mostly imparting knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentials.” –Dr. Maria Montessori

Learning Principles

At Greenspring Montessori School, your child’s education is based on the following Montessori principles:


“The greatest sign of success for a teacher…is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.” – Maria Montessori

The Montessori classroom is set up to facilitate hands-on learning, extended periods of concentration, and collaborative experiences. While students become deeply involved with their work, the guide may be working with one or two children at a time, presenting a new lesson, or quietly observing the class at work. Rather than depend on an adult for guidance or validation, Montessori children tackle difficult challenges and mentor one another. The Montessori materials themselves are designed to incorporate this concept of independence. Most of them include a built-in “control of error,” so that children are not dependent upon adults for answers. Instead, the children’s engagement with the materials enables self-learning.

Traditional education touts smaller class sizes as an advantage – but in the Montessori classroom, we focus on giving students a rich pool of peers to work with. This is because, as adults, our tendency is to interfere with children’s work.  Every unnecessary interruption erodes the child’s self-esteem and motivation. When children have the freedom to work independently, overcome challenges, and collaborate with peers, they learn self-reliance rather than dependence on authority figures.

Freedom with Responsibility

“Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur.” – Maria Montessori

Children in a Montessori classroom enjoy the freedom to pursue their interests, concentrate deeply without interruption, collaborate with peers, and move about the classroom. These experiences allow child to develop inner discipline, responsibility, and intrinsic motivation. The Montessori guide in the classroom observes carefully to allow each child as much independence as she can handle responsibly.


” Our aim is not merely to make the child understand, and still less to force him to memorize, but so to touch his imagination as to enthuse him to his innermost core. ” – Maria Montessori

Dr. Montessori observed that children are born with an innate curiosity and desire to learn. The Montessori method nurtures this natural instinct, rather than extinguishing it. The environment and activities within it facilitate independence by allowing children to pursue their interests. Children do not work to please an adult but because the work itself is satisfying. Montessori students are joyful, curious, lifelong learners.

Grace and Courtesy

“What is social life if not the solving of social problems, behaving properly and pursuing aims acceptable to all?”  – Maria Montessori

Grace and Courtesy activities provide learning experiences for interacting with others in a respectful way. These lessons include learning to politely greet others, interrupt respectfully, open and close a door quietly, tuck in a chair – and so much more! These skills are fundamental to the formation of a classroom community, as well as successful encounters in the larger world.

Teaching Principles

At Greenspring Montessori School, your child’s education is based on the following Montessori principles:

Prepared Environments

“To assist a child we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely.” – Maria Montessori

Montessori guides design classrooms to meet children’s physical, cognitive and social needs. Child-sized furniture and hands-on materials engage children in independent work. A beautiful, ordered work environment allows them to develop internal order and discipline. Open areas and group tables encourage collaboration and teamwork. In the prepared environment, children not only learn but thrive.

Didactic Materials

“The human hand allows the mind to reveal itself.” – Maria Montessori                   

Montessori materials feature hands-on materials that introduce concepts on a concrete level. These early hands-on experiences allow the child to make the leap to a deep and abstract understanding. Most materials include a control of error, allowing the child to check her own work without relying upon an adult.

Multi-age Classrooms

“There is a great sense of community within the Montessori classroom, where children of differing ages work together in an atmosphere of cooperation rather than competitiveness.” – Maria Montessori

A fundamental component of the Montessori philosophy is the multi-age classroom. In a mixed group, children of various ages and backgrounds share their talents and interests. Older children serve as role models and often give lessons to younger classmates. Children are exposed to a greater variety of content and are inspired by the work of others. Younger children are embraced by an established classroom community.

Individualized Pacing

Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.” – Maria Montessori

The Montessori curriculum is deep and broad. Rather than the child conforming to a set program, in which the entire class must complete the same work simultaneously, each child in the Montessori classroom receives the lessons for which he is ready and pursue his own interests. This flexibility allows children the time they need to fully absorb concepts and the ability to pursue work that is both exciting and challenging.


“The teacher must…possess scientific curiosity and absolute respect for the phenomenon which she wishes to observe.” – Maria Montessori

A Montessori guide must intimately understand each child’s interests, motivations, abilities, and insecurities. It is through observation of the child that a guide ensures that she meets the individual needs of the child. The guide will also observe the classroom community as a whole.


A Brief Video Introduction to Montessori Education:


We invite you to learn more about the Montessori Method at each level of education by reading about our Programs.