Dr. Maria Montessori believed that no human being is educated by another person. He must do it by himself. A truly educated individual continues learning long after the hours and years spent in a classroom because he is motivated from within by a natural curiosity and love for knowledge. Therefore, Dr. Montessori felt that the goal of early childhood education should be to cultivate a child's own natural desire to learn. Montessori is an education for independence, preparing not just for school, but for life.
In the Montessori classroom this objective is approached in two ways. First, by allowing each child to experience the excitement of learning by his own choice. Second, by helping him to perfect all his natural tools for acquiring information so that his ability will be at a maximum in future learning situations.
The Montessori philosophy is built upon the idea that children develop and think differently than adults; that they are not merely "adults in small bodies". Dr. Montessori advocated children's rights, children working to develop themselves into adults, and that these developments would lead to world peace.
The method was developed from observations of young children from which a set of universal characteristics of children was created for each level of development. The Montessori method has two primary development levels. The first level is birth through six years old, the second level is ages 6-12. A Montessori classroom for the first level is called the casa dei bambini ("children's house"), and focuses on individually-paced learning and development. In the second level, working with others is encouraged, and "cosmic education" is introduced.
As an educational approach, the Montessori method's focus is on the individuality of each child, respecting their needs or talents as opposed to the needs of the class as a whole. A goal is to help the child maintain his or her natural joy of learning. Montessori believed that children had a cosmic embryo that would naturally grow as the child matures.
The Montessori method encourages independence and freedom with limits and responsibility. The youngest children are guided in practical life skills, e.g., domestic skills and manners. These skills are emphasized with the goal of increasing attention spans, hand-eye coordination, and tenacity. The Montessori Method states that satisfaction, contentment and joy result from the child feeling like a full participant in daily activities. Montessori education carried through the elementary and high school years follows the child's emerging tendency for peer-oriented interactions and still emphasizes that each student is the guardian of his or her own intellectual development.
The premises of a Montessori approach to teaching and learning include the following:
Angeline Stoll Lillard's 2005 book Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius (Oxford University Press) presents the first real comprehensive overview of research done on the comparison of Montessori educated children to those educated in a more traditional manner. Lillard cites research indicating that the children do better in later schooling than non-Montessori children do, in all subjects, and argues the need for more research in this area.
A 2006 study published in the journal "Science" concluded that Montessori students performed better than their standard public school counterparts in a variety of arenas, including not only traditional academic areas such as language and mathematical reasoning, but in social cognition skills as well.
On several dimensions, children at a public inner city Montessori school had superior outcomes relative to a sample of Montessori applicants who, because of a random lottery, attended other schools. By the end of kindergarten, the Montessori children performed better on standardized tests of reading and math, engaged in positive interaction on the playground more, and showed advanced social cognition and executive control more. They also showed more concern for fairness and justice. At the end of elementary school, Montessori children wrote more creative essays with more complex sentence structures, selected more positive responses to social dilemmas, and reported feeling more of a sense of community at their school.
The authors concluded that, "when strictly implemented, Montessori education fosters social and academic skills that are equal or superior to those fostered by a pool of other types of schools."