Edited by Gerald Boerner



JerryPhoto_thumb2_thumbDuring my early university teaching career, I was teaching Psychology. These were the late 60s (1960s, that is!) and many new trends were catching hold on education, including the Montessori School movement. Yes, these schools had been around since the first one was established by Maria Montessori in Rome, Italy, in 1907. This first school served children in the poor neighborhoods and used an innovative approach that was student-centric as opposed to the teacher-centric approach employed in American schools. But changes were occurring on the American educational scene.


A Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, was capturing the attention of psychologists on both sides of the pond. His approach emphasized a developmental approach to psychological development. This approach talked about the child’s development passing through several stages, each of which had it own way of “seeing” the world. These stages also were thought to determine how children learn during that stage and what the best method of instruction would be effective. Education was to be child-centric and emphasized child-directed discussions. It wasn’t until the child reached the final stage at age 11 or 12 that the typical learning approach used by our school would be effective.

The theory of Piaget reinvigorated the Montessori school movement in this country. Today, both the Montessori method and the Montessori Schools are thriving. They help children to learn more effectively. While they may not always show these results on the standardized tests that seem to have become “King” among today’s educators, these processes do seem to produce happy, well-adjusted, and successful adults. But that is another topic for another day.

Let us now dive into our exploration of Marie Montessori and her innovative method for teaching the disadvantaged children of Rome… GLB

These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2012 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved

[ 4067 Words ]


Quotations Related to Maria Montessori:


“Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.”
— Maria Montessori

“Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world.”
— Maria Montessori

“If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men.”
— Maria Montessori

“One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.”
— Maria Montessori

“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 only language men ever speak perfectly is the one they learn in babyhood, when no one can teach them anything!”
— Maria Montessori

“If an educational act is to be efficacious, it will be only that one which tends to help toward the complete unfolding of life. To be thus helpful it is necessary rigorously to avoid the arrest of spontaneous movements and the imposition of arbitrary tasks.”
— Maria Montessori

“If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future. For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s total development lags behind?”
— Maria Montessori


Maria Montessori: Opens First School Using Montessori Method…


Maria_MontessoriMaria Montessori
(August 31, 1870 – May 6, 1952) was an Italian physician and educator, a noted humanitarian and devout Catholic best known for the philosophy of education which bears her name. Her educational method is in use today in public as well as private schools throughout the world.

Montessori education is an educational approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori. Montessori education is practiced in an estimated 20,000 schools worldwide, serving children from birth to eighteen years old.

Montessori education is characterized by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological development, as well as technological advancements in society. Although a range of practices exists under the name "Montessori", the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and the American Montessori Society (AMS) cite these elements as essential:

  • Mixed age classrooms, with classrooms for children aged 2½ or 3 to 6 years old by far the most common
  • Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options
  • Uninterrupted blocks of work time
  • A Constructivist or "discovery" model, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction
  • Specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators

In addition, many Montessori schools design their programs with reference to Montessori’s model of human development from her published works, and use pedagogy, lessons, and materials introduced in teacher training derived from courses presented by Montessori during her lifetime.


Maria Montessori: Her Life and Legacy…  (3:50)





Constructivism is a theory of knowledge (epistemology) that argues that humans generate knowledge and meaning from an interaction between their experiences and their ideas. During infancy, it was an interaction between human experiences and their reflexes or behavior-patterns. Piaget called these systems of knowledge schemata. Constructivism is not a specific pedagogy, although it is often confused with constructionism, an educational theory developed by Seymour Papert, inspired by constructivist and experiential learning ideas of Jean Piaget. Piaget’s theory of constructivist learning has had wide ranging impact on learning theories and teaching methods in education and is an underlying theme of many education reform movements. Research support for constructivist teaching techniques has been mixed, with some research supporting these techniques and other research contradicting those results.

In past centuries, constructivist ideas were not widely valued due to the perception that children’s play was seen as aimless and of little importance. Jean Piaget did not agree with these traditional views, however. He saw play as an important and necessary part of the student’s cognitive development and provided scientific evidence for his views. Today, constructivist theories are influential throughout much of the non-formal learning sector. One good example of constructivist learning in a non-formal setting is the Investigate Centre at The Natural History Museum, London. Here visitors are encouraged to explore a collection of real natural history specimens, to practice some scientific skills and make discoveries for themselves.

Formalization of the theory of constructivism is generally attributed to Jean Piaget, who articulated mechanisms by which knowledge is internalized by learners. He suggested that through processes of accommodation and assimilation, individuals construct new knowledge from their experiences. When individuals assimilate, they incorporate the new experience into an already existing framework without changing that framework. This may occur when individuals’ experiences are aligned with their internal representations of the world, but may also occur as a failure to change a faulty understanding; for example, they may not notice events, may misunderstand input from others, or may decide that an event is a fluke and is therefore unimportant as information about the world. In contrast, when individuals’ experiences contradict their internal representations, they may change their perceptions of the experiences to fit their internal representations. According to the theory, accommodation is the process of reframing one’s mental representation of the external world to fit new experiences. Accommodation can be understood as the mechanism by which failure leads to learning: when we act on the expectation that the world operates in one way and it violates our expectations, we often fail, but by accommodating this new experience and reframing our model of the way the world works, we learn from the experience of failure, or others’ failure.

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Jean Piaget

Jean_Piaget_in_Ann_ArborJean Piaget (9 August 1896 – 16 September 1980) was a French-speaking Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher known for his epistemological studies with children. His theory of cognitive development and epistemological view are together called "genetic epistemology".

Piaget placed great importance on the education of children. As the Director of the International Bureau of Education, he declared in 1934 that "only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent, or gradual.”

Piaget created the International Center for Genetic Epistemology in Geneva in 1955 and directed it until 1980. According to Ernst von Glasersfeld, Jean Piaget is "the great pioneer of the constructivist theory of knowing.”

Henry Beilin described Jean Piaget’s theoretical research program as consisting of four phases:

  1. the sociological model of development,
  2. the biological model of intellectual development,
  3. the elaboration of the logical model of intellectual development,
  4. the study of figurative thought.

The resulting theoretical frameworks are sufficiently different from each other that they have been characterized as representing different "Piagets." More recently, Jeremy Burman responded to Beilin and called for the addition of a phase before his turn to psychology: "the zeroeth Piaget.”

First Piaget: The Sociological Model of Development

Piaget first developed as a psychologist in the 1920s. He investigated the hidden side of children’s minds. Piaget proposed that children moved from a position of egocentrism to sociocentrism. For this explanation he combined the use of psychological and clinical methods to create what he called a semiclinical interview. He began the interview by asking children standardized questions and depending on how they answered, he would ask them a series of nonstandard questions. Piaget was looking for what he called “spontaneous conviction” so he often asked questions the children neither expected nor anticipated. In his studies, he noticed there was a gradual progression from intuitive to scientific and socially acceptable responses. Piaget theorized children did this because of the social interaction and the challenge to younger children’s ideas by the ideas of those children who were more advanced.

This work was used by Elton Mayo as the basis for the famous Hawthorne Experiments. For Piaget, it also led to an honorary doctorate from Harvard in 1936.

Second Piaget: The Sensorimotor/Adaptive Model of Intellectual Development

In this stage, Piaget described intelligence as having two closely interrelated parts. The first part, which is from the first stage, was the content of childrens’ thinking. The second part was the process of intellectual activity. He believed this process of thinking could be regarded as an extension of the biological process of adaptation. Adaptation has two pieces: assimilation and accommodation. To test his theory, Piaget observed the habits in his own children. He argued infants were engaging in an act of assimilation when they sucked on everything in their reach. He claimed infants transform all objects into an object to be sucked. The children were assimilating the objects to conform to their own mental structures. Piaget then made the assumption that whenever one transforms the world to meet individual needs or conceptions, one is, in a way, assimilating it. Piaget also observed his children not only assimilating objects to fit their needs, but also modifying some of their mental structures to meet the demands of the environment. This is the second division of adaption known as accommodation. To start out, the infants only engaged in primarily reflex actions such as sucking, but not long after, they would pick up actual objects and put them in their mouths. When they do this, they modify their reflex response to accommodate the external objects into reflex actions. Because the two are often in conflict, they provide the impetus for intellectual development. The constant need to balance the two triggers intellectual growth.

Third Piaget: The Elaboration of the Logical Model of Intellectual Development

In the model Piaget developed in stage three, he argued the idea that intelligence develops in a series of stages that are related to age and are progressive because one stage must be accomplished before the next can occur. For each stage of development the child forms a view of reality for that age period. At the next stage, the child must keep up with earlier level of mental abilities to reconstruct concepts. Piaget concluded intellectual development as an upward expanding spiral in which children must constantly reconstruct the ideas formed at earlier levels with new, higher order concepts acquired at the next level.

It is primarily the Third Piaget that was incorporated into American psychology when Piaget’s ideas were "rediscovered" in the 1960s.

Fourth Piaget: The Study of Figurative Thought

Piaget studied areas of intelligence like perception and memory that aren’t entirely logical. Logical concepts are described as being completely reversible because they can always get back to the starting point. The perceptual concepts Piaget studied could not be manipulated. To describe the figurative process, Piaget uses pictures as examples. Pictures can’t be separated because contours cannot be separated from the forms they outline. Memory is the same way. It is never completely reversible. During this last period of work, Piaget and his colleague Inhelder also published books on perception, memory, and other figurative processes such as learning during this last period.

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The American Montessori Society (AMS)

The American Montessori Society (AMS) is a nonprofit, member-supported, professional organization based in New York City, NY, with a mission to provide the leadership and inspiration to make Montessori a significant voice in education.

AMS was founded at the Whitby School in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1960, by a group of parents who realized a need for a clearing house for information about establishing Montessori schools, educating Montessori teachers, and recommending Montessori learning materials. Dr. Nancy McCormick Rambusch, who had studied Montessori philosophy and practice in London, and was head of the Whitby School, was appointed (by Mario Montessori, son of Dr. Maria Montessori) the American representative of the Association Montessori Internationale, which was headquartered in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Dr. Rambusch held this position for several years. She also became the first president of AMS. The current president of AMS is Marilyn Stewart, head of The Red Oaks School in Morristown, New Jersey.

AMS develops and expands Montessori’s application in public and private schools throughout the United States. AMS has 11,000 members in 50 countries. AMS also advances Montessori education by supporting related activities, such as research and public policy, and by creating a global community of education professionals, families, and policy makers.

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Aside from a new pedagogy, among the premier contributions to educational thought by Montessori are:

  • instruction in 3-year age groups, corresponding to sensitive periods of development (example: Birth-3, 3–6, 6–9, 9–12, 12–15 year olds) with an Erdkinder (German for "Land Children") program for early teens
  • children as competent beings, encouraged to make maximal decisions
  • observation of the child in the prepared environment as the basis for ongoing curriculum development (presentation of subsequent exercises for skill development and information accumulation)
  • small, child-sized furniture and creation of a small, child-sized environment (microcosm) in which each can be competent to produce overall a self-running small children’s world
  • creation of a scale of sensitive periods of development, which provides a focus for class work that is appropriate and uniquely stimulating and motivating to the child (including sensitive periods for language development, sensorial experimentation and refinement, and various levels of social interaction)
  • the importance of the "absorbent mind," the limitless motivation of the young child to achieve competence over his or her environment and to perfect his or her skills and understandings as they occur within each sensitive period. The phenomenon is characterized by the young child’s capacity for repetition of activities within sensitive period categories (Example: exhaustive babbling as language practice leading to language competence).
  • self-correcting "auto-didactic" materials (some based on work of Jean Marc Gaspard Itard and Edouard Seguin)


NSRW_Maria_MontessoriA conference in Rome on 6–7 January 2007 heralded the start of a year of celebrations for children and schools around the world. Dr. Montessori’s innovative approach was that “Education should no longer be mostly imparting of knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities.”

What followed worldwide has been called the "discovery of the child" and the realization that: "…mankind can hope for a solution to its problems, among which the most urgent are those of peace and unity, only by turning its attention and energies to the discovery of the child and to the development of the great potentialities of the human personality in the course of its formation.”

The efficacy of Montessori teaching methods has most recently been demonstrated by the results of a study published in the US journal, Science (29 September 2006) which indicates that Montessori children have improved behavioral and academic skills compared with a control group from the mainstream system. 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."

The Montessori method of education that she derived from this experience has subsequently been applied successfully to children and is quite popular in many parts of the world. Despite much criticism of her method in the early 1930s–1940s, her method of education has been applied and has undergone a revival. It can now be found on six continents, but is still subject to some criticism.

The Association Montessori Internationale is a member of the International Coalition for the Decade for the Culture of Peace and Nonviolence.

Montessori’s image was the last to be featured on the 1000 Italian Lira banknote before the lira itself was phased out of circulation and replaced by the Euro.

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Planes of Development


Montessori observed four distinct periods, or "planes", in human development, extending from birth to six years, from six to twelve, from twelve to eighteen, and from eighteen to twenty-four. She saw different characteristics, learning modes, and developmental imperatives active in each of these planes, and called for educational approaches specific to each period.


First Plane

The first plane extends from birth to around six years of age. During this period, Montessori observed that the child undergoes striking physical and psychological development. The first plane child is seen as a concrete, sensorial explorer and learner engaged in the developmental work of psychological self-construction and building functional independence. Montessori introduced several concepts to explain this work, including the absorbent mind, sensitive periods, and normalization.

Absorbent mind: Montessori described the young child’s behavior of effortlessly assimilating the sensorial stimuli of his or her environment, including information from the senses, language, culture, and the development of concepts with the term "absorbent mind". She believed that this is a power unique to the first plane, and that it fades as the child approached age six.

Sensitive periods: Montessori also observed periods of special sensitivity to particular stimuli during this time which she called the "sensitive periods". In Montessori education, the classroom environment responds to these periods by making appropriate materials and activities available while the periods are active in the young child. She identified the following periods and their durations:

  • Acquisition of language—from birth to around six years old
  • Order—from around one to three years old
  • Sensory refinement—from birth to around four years old
  • Interest in small objects—from around 18 months to three years old
  • Social behavior—from around two and a half to four years old

Normalization: Finally, Montessori observed in children from three to six years old a psychological state she termed "normalization". Normalization arises from concentration and focus on activity which serves the child’s developmental needs, and is characterized by the ability to concentrate as well as "spontaneous discipline, continuous and happy work, social sentiments of help and sympathy for others.”

Second Plane

The second plane of development extends from around six to twelve years old. During this period, Montessori observed physical and psychological changes in children, and developed a classroom environment, lessons, and materials, to respond to these new characteristics. Physically, she observed the loss of baby teeth and the lengthening of the legs and torso at the beginning of the plane, and a period of uniform growth following. Psychologically, she observed the "herd instinct", or the tendency to work and socialize in groups, as well as the powers of reason and imagination. Developmentally, she believed the work of the second plane child is the formation of intellectual independence, of moral sense, and of social organization.

Third Plane

The third plane of development extends from around twelve to around eighteen years of age, encompassing the period of adolescence. Montessori characterized the third plane by the physical changes of puberty and adolescence, but also psychological changes. She emphasized the psychological instability and difficulties in concentration of this age, as well as the creative tendencies and the development of "a sense of justice and a sense of personal dignity." She used the term "valorization" to describe the adolescents’ drive for an externally derived evaluation of their worth. Developmentally, Montessori believed that the work of the third plane child is the construction of the adult self in society.

Fourth Plane

The fourth plane of development extends from around eighteen years to around twenty-four years old. Montessori wrote comparatively little about this period and did not develop an educational program for the age. She envisioned young adults prepared by their experiences in Montessori education at the lower levels ready to fully embrace the study of culture and the sciences in order to influence and lead civilization. She believed that economic independence in the form of work for money was critical for this age, and felt that an arbitrary limit to the number of years in university level study was unnecessary, as the study of culture could go on throughout a person’s life.

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Montessori In our Home Part 2…  (8:12)


Life of Maria Montessori… (9:23)



Please take time to further explore more about Maria Montessori, Montessori Method, Constructivism (Learning Theory), Association Montessori International of the United States, American Montessori Society, Jean Piaget, Egocentrism, and Sociocentrism by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below. In most cases, the text in the body of this post has been selectively excerpted from the articles; footnotes and hyperlinks have been removed for readability…





Other Events on this Day:

  • In 1759…
    George Washington marries Martha Dandridge Custis at her Virginia estate, known as White House Plantation. Exactly 186 years later, in 1945, another future president named George will wed his first lady to-be when George H.W. Bush marries Barbara Pierce in Rye, New York.

  • In 1838…
    Samuel Morse conducts a successful demonstration of his telegraph near Morristown, New Jersey. This invention, along with its cryptic code, was given to us by Samuel Morse. This communication system served to eventually replace the Pony Express in the west.

  • In 1907…
    Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori opens her first school, the Casa dei Bambini ("Children’s House") in San Lorenzo, a poor neighborhood of Rome, putting the groundbreaking Montessori method of teaching into practice.

  • In 1912…
    New Mexico becomes the forty-seventh state.

  • In 1941…
    President Franklin D. Roosevelt describes the “Four Freedoms” in his State of the Union address, proclaiming that people “everywhere in the world” should have the freedom of speech and worship, as well as freedom from want and fear.

  • In 1942…
    Piloted by Capt. Robert Ford, Pan American World Airways’ Pacific Clipper lands at LaGuardia Field in New York after completing the first commercial around-the-world flight.

  • In 1994…
    Figure skater Nancy Kerrigan is clubbed above the knee following practice for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. Four men, including the ex-husband of Tonya Harding, Kerrigan’s figure skating rival, were convicted of the assault, while Harding would be fined $160,000, given three years probation and 500 hours of community service for her role in covering up the attack. Kerrigan and Harding both compete in the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, with Kerrigan finishing with the silver medal and Harding in eighth place.

  • In 2001…
    In an ironic twist of fate, Al Gore presides as a joint session of Congress ratifies the election of his presidential opponent, George W. Bush. Members of the Black Congressional Caucus stage a walkout in protest of the vote.

Dates and events based on:

William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)


Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: Maria Montessori…

Wikipedia: Montessori Method…

Wikipedia: Constructivism (Learning Theory)…

Wikipedia: Association Montessori International of the United States…

Wikipedia: American Montessori Society…

Wikipedia: Jean Piaget…

Wikipedia: Egocentrism…

Wikipedia: Sociocentrism…

Brainy Quote: Maria Montessori Quotes…


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Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Mary McLeod Bethune: Black Educator

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