Montessori Glossary

When parents first come to a Montessori school, it can be hard to understand some of the terminology used. We have created this Montessori Glossary to better help our parents learn about the Montessori Method.

Absorbent Mind

The ability and ease with which the young child, from birth through approximately age 6, learns from her environment without conscious effort, naturally and spontaneously.

Adolescent Community

This is the classroom designed for students from 12 – 15 years old, for 7th and 8th-grade students.  Other schools call the classroom for this age the Middle School.

Casa dei Bambini

In Italian, “Children’s House.” This was the name given the first schools utilizing the Montessori method.

Children’s House

In many Montessori schools, this is the classroom for children ages 3 to 6 years; other schools call the classroom for this age group Casa, preschool, or primary school. Some schools use this term to refer to the entire school.


Allowing the child to choose to develop skills and deepen knowledge in an activity that has been introduced. This free choice allows the child to bring an enthusiasm to learning that might be extinguished under force.


Deep engagement. From a Montessori perspective, concentration is “a consistent activity concentrated on a single work – an exercise on some external object, where the movements of the hands are guided by the mind.” The young child focuses her attention on aspects of the environment essential for development.

Concrete to Abstract

A logical, developmentally appropriate progression that allows the child to come to an abstract understanding of a concept by first encountering it in a concrete form.

Control of Error

Montessori materials are designed so that the child receives instant feedback as she works, allowing her to recognize, correct, and learn from mistakes without adult assistance. This puts the control in the hands of the learner, strengthening the child’s self-esteem and self-motivation.

Cosmic Education

Maria Montessori urged us to give elementary-level children a “vision of the universe” to help them discover how all parts of the cosmos are interconnected and interdependent. Impressionistic lessons are designed to spark the child’s imagination and arouse the child’s interest in further study. Cosmic Education is centered around the “Great Lessons,” which include the “Birth of the Universe,” “The Timeline of Life,” “The Coming of Humans,” “The Story of Language,” and “The Story of Numbers.” As children develop respect for past events, they become aware of their own roles and responsibilities in the global society of today and tomorrow.  Read more.

Didactic Materials

Didactic meaning “designed or intended to teach,” these are the specially designed instructional materials—many invented by Maria Montessori—used in Montessori classrooms.


German for “child of the earth,” this term describes a Montessori learning environment for adolescents ages 12 – 15 that connects them with nature and encourages them to form a society of their own; often designed as a working farm school.

Freedom & Responsibility

The child’s free movements and experiences in an environment that provides discipline through liberty and respect for his rights.  The child is free to act within the limits of purposeful activity.


Students in a Montessori elementary classroom will go out in small groups of two to six students into the community to gather information or experiences in areas of interest. This is different from a class field trip in that the outing relates to a specific topic of study being engaged in by a small group of children. Typically, students plan these outings independently.

Grace and Courtesy

The lessons in grace and courtesy are designed to build vital social skills. From the basics of learning how to make an introduction, how to ask for assistance, how to greet a guest, and many more, the child is introduced to foundational skills for a lifetime of healthy relationships.


Guide is the designated title for the lead teacher in a Montessori classroom. In Montessori education, the role of the instructor is to direct or guide individual children to purposeful activity based upon the instructor’s observation of each child’s readiness. The child develops his own knowledge through hands-on learning with didactic materials he chooses.


The overcoming of obstacles and dependence on others in his attempt to gain freedom and self-development. Throughout the four planes of development, the child and young adult continually seek to become more independent. It’s as if the child says, “Help me to help myself.” Read more.

Indirect Preparation

The way nature has of preparing the intelligence. In every action, there is a conscious interest. Through this interest, the mind is being prepared for something in the future. For example, a child will enjoy the putting together of various triangular shapes, totally unaware that because of this work his mind will later be more accepting of geometry. Also called “remote preparation,” the deeper educational purpose of many of the Montessori activities is remote in time.

Inner Guide

That which enables the child to choose the work which will best assist his development.

Isolation of Difficulty

The concentration of one particular aspect of a task or exercise in order to better understand it. Procedures or movements that might prove troublesome are isolated and taught to the child separately. A task should neither be so hard that it is overwhelming, nor so easy that it is boring.


The term may refer to Dr. Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori Method of education, or the method itself.


A natural or “normal” developmental process is marked by a love of constructive activity, concentration, self-discipline, and joy in accomplishment. Dr. Montessori observed that the normalization process is characteristic of human beings at any age.


The giving of a specific time, location, and meaning to everything in the environment to help the child establish order in his mind and his learning habits.

Planes of Development

Four distinct periods of growth, development, and learning that build on each other as children and youth progress through them: ages 0 – 6 (the period of the “absorbent mind”); 6 – 12 (the period of reasoning and abstraction); 12 – 18 (when youth construct the “social self,” developing moral values and becoming emotionally independent); and 18 – 24 years (when young adults construct an understanding of the self and seek to know their place in the world).  Read more.

Points 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.

Practical Life

Those exercises through which the child learns to care for himself and his environment. Activities related to self-care, personal hygiene, care of the environment, and grace and courtesy help children learn to work independently, develop concentration, and build self-esteem.

Prepared Environment

An atmosphere created to enable the child to be free to learn through his own activity in peaceful and orderly surroundings adapted to the child’s size and interest. The teacher prepares the environment of the Montessori classroom with carefully selected, aesthetically arranged materials that are presented sequentially to meet the developmental needs of the children using the space. Well-prepared Montessori environments contain appropriately sized furniture, a full complement of Montessori materials, and enough space to allow children to work in peace, alone or in small or large groups.

Sensitive Period

A critical time during human development when the child is biologically ready and receptive to acquiring a specific skill or ability—such as the use of language or a sense of order—and is therefore particularly sensitive to stimuli that promote the development of that skill. A Montessori guide prepares the environment to meet the developmental needs of each sensitive period.

Sensorial Exercises

Those exercises pertaining to the development of the five senses and to providing a foundation for speech, writing, and arithmetic by use of the sensorial materials.

The 3-Period Lesson

A 3-step technique for presenting information to the child. In the first—the introduction or naming period—the teacher demonstrates what “this is.” In the second—the association or recognition period—the teacher asks the child to “show” what was just identified. Finally, in the recall period, the teacher asks the child to name the object or area. Moving from new information to passive recall to active identification reinforces the child’s learning and demonstrates her mastery.


Purposeful activity. Maria Montessori observed that children learn through purposeful activities of their own choosing; Montessori schools call all of the children’s activities “work.”

Work Cycle

A basic work cycle begins with choosing an activity, doing that activity, returning the activity to order, and then experiencing a sense of satisfaction. This sense of satisfaction motivates the child to choose the next activity, thus creating another cycle of work. Montessori advocates that children have three hours of open, uninterrupted time to choose independent work, become deeply engaged, and repeat to their own satisfaction.

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