A History of Montessori Education

Today an estimated 112,500 students attend more than 4,500 pre-K–12 Montessori schools in the U.S., including almost 500 publicly funded Montessori programs (National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector [NCMPS], 2014). Since charter-school legislation was introduced in the early 1990s, the number of public Montessori schools has seen a roughly 75% increase, largely due to the expansion of school choice (NCMPS, 2014). More than a century old, Maria Montessori’s educational philosophy is gaining attention as a contemporary influence and movement in global education circles.

The Montessori Method of education was created by Maria Montessori (1870–1952), one of Italy’s first female physicians. She developed the initial elements of her Method through astute observation of the behavior of the disadvantaged children she worked with in the worst neighborhood in Rome, Italy. She integrated close observation of children’s behavior with her scientific knowledge of their growth and development to create a framework for an educational philosophy and approach that she believed would lead all children to become self-motivated and independent lifelong learners, offering a vision for education as a vehicle for national and global peacebuilding (American Montessori Society, n.d.). Her methods, which espoused that children learn through thoughtful preparation of educational environments, peer interaction, and careful adult guidance and that critical brain development occurs during the early childhood years, were considered quite radical in Dr. Montessori’s day but are now widely accepted educational principles (Lillard, 2005).

Today, Montessori schools implement individualized education with a long-term perspective. In high-fidelity Montessori classrooms, children remain with the same teacher in multiage classrooms for three years, allowing continuity in a learning experience in which children work at their own pace with opportunities for cooperative learning while working in small, mixed-age groupings according to ability and interest (Lillard, 2005). Montessori programs typically limit emphasis on whole-group instruction, grades, and tests, instead focusing on student-chosen work and formative assessment opportunities that use specially designed materials during long blocks of uninterrupted time (Lillard & Else-Quest, 2006). Even though a large proportion of Montessori schools are preschools, Montessori programs exist for children of all ages, from infancy through high school (Lillard & Else-Quest, 2006).


American Montessori Society. (n.d.) Introduction to Montessori Method. Why Choose Montessori Education.

Lillard, A. S. (2005). Montessori: The Science Behind the GeniusNew York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Lillard, A., & Else-Quest, N. (2006). Evaluating Montessori educationScience, 313, 1893–1894. doi:10.1126/science.1132362

National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector. (2014). Growth of Public Montessori in the United States: 1975-2014.