The main components of Montessori pedagogy


A way of measuring the relevance of an educational model
is a child’s level of happiness.

The main components of Montessori pedagogy are based on the child himself, through development plans, on his physical and social environment.

Maria Montessori

The child at the centre of the Montessori approach 

Maria Montessori was concerned with human development as a process that begins at birth and continues into adulthood, indeed throughout life …

This development follows natural laws, it adopts a very particular rhythm by taking place according to the four development plans.

C’est aux personnalités successives de l’enfant que doivent correspondre des plans d’éducation successifs. Nos méthodes ne sont pas orientées selon certains principes, mais selon les caractères inhérents aux différents âges. Il s’ensuit qu’elles comportent plusieurs plans.

Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescent

The 4 development plans and the bulb

In 1951, Maria Montessori presented at a congress in Rome “the 4 development plans and the bulb”.


In this bulb illustration, Maria Montessori shows the changes that occur in children, adolescents and adults during the four development plans she has defined as follows:

First plan, children from 0 to 6 years old

From the beginning of the bulb, we observe a whole black area that appears before birth.

Between 0 and 3 years old, the black and red part symbolizes the dynamic, the baby wants to catch what surrounds it …

In the red part, between 3 and 6 years old, it is “the absorbent mind”, the child absorbs its environment unconsciously.

Second plan, children from 6 to 12 years old

The scheme is refined with a green part, it is the construction of the conscious mind with the capacity of understanding between 6 and 12 years.

For children from 6 to 12 years old, human development begins with an appetite to understand the cosmos.

This part is very fine because it is built like a long and great work.

It is a time of joy in learning.

Third plan, adolescents aged 12 to 18 years

At 12, it’s puberty.

In the third development plan, we observe a dynamic part in red, the personality changes.

The red part is always framed by the green coat, which means that everything that has been learned before is internalized.

This is a time of peace and assiduous and quiet learning.

Fourth plan, young adults aged 18 to 24

From the age of 18, the teenager moves towards what Maria Montessori called “the preparation for the complete man”.

The mission of the young child is to give shape to this human being that he will become later. Thus nature gives him the energy necessary for his psychological development. Each period is a preparation for the next, a precise, daily preparation.

Maria Montessori, The Child is the Future of Man

Under the bulb, Maria Montessori represented the period of “crèche” and “pre-school”. She wrote the name of Friedrich Fröbel, the famous German pedagogue at the origin of kindergartens.

Friedrich Fröebel (1782-1852)

Then we can read “elementary school” with the name of the pedagogue Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, Swiss educator and thinker, pioneer of modern pedagogy.

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi
Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827)

From the age of 10 / 13, “High school” is the secondary school with Johann Friedrich Herbart, a German philosopher and pedagogue, considered as the founder of pedagogy as a scientific and academic field.

Johann Friedrich Herbart
Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841)

Then, the period of university and the culture of civilization.

Finally, a black mark with the word “degrees” representing the terminal level.

In the scientific approach to her teaching, Maria Montessori was largely inspired by the research of these different pedagogues….

For Maria Montessori, development is a process that goes through different stages leading the child gradually towards independence.

This child who progresses in different stages, each with its own characteristics, before reaching the fullness of his or her abilities.

Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescent

The 4 phases of child development

In the first phase of development, from birth to three years of age, the child absorbs the information around him, it gradually makes the difference between him and the world, it is a spiritual embryo. Then, gradually, its independence can be qualified as physical, the child is able to take care of himself. It can say “help me to do it by myself”. The child will build his self-confidence, it is able to say “I-need” at 3 years old. He has acquired the basics of language, motor skills and sensory development.

In the second phase of development, children work towards moral and mental independence. The child builds its autonomous and intellectual thinking. It can say “help me think for myself”. The child needs to live in society, in a group, to understand people and their actions. The child becomes a being of moral sense and justice.

In the third phase of development, Maria Montessori speaks of social and economic independence. The children in the first and third planes are centred on themselves.

In the fourth phase of development, Maria Montessori speaks of intellectual and spiritual independence. At the end of this last phase, the adult must have acquired a healthy attitude towards power, money and a comfortable life.

Independence is not static, it is the conquest of a continuous work that carries within itself, not only freedom, but the strength of a self-perfection.

Maria Montessori, The Steps of Education

The child’s physical and social environment through the different stages 

The atmosphere of our schools is a revealing one. It can be said that its preparation summarizes the form of this pedagogy. Its first principle is to replace the exclusively verbal teaching of teachers and professors with equipment which, presented by a qualified teacher, makes it possible to overcome, in a tangible way, all the difficulties that arise in the acquisition of the various disciplines. Here the equipment is not an aid to make understand or demonstrate what the master explains, no, the equipment is really a substitution for the master teacher, and it teaches in an individual and intimate way; while the word of the master flees, the equipment remains present, if the word of the master gives the description or indication of a thing, the equipment represents that thing as a real fact.

Maria Montessori, The Steps of Education

The environment we call “prepared environment” in a Montessori classroom, allows us to best meet the needs of the child according to the development plans. This prepared environment has three essential components:

  • Specific equipment
  • Order in the environment
  • The adult

The child’s physical environment (from the foreground to the background) is characterized by the equipment he or she will find in the classroom, or even outdoors

According to Maria Montessori, in the first development plan, the environment must look like a house.

In the second plane, the environment represents the entire universe.

In the third plane, the environment must look like the countryside.

Children in the foreground

The children in the foreground, from 3 to 6 years old, are welcomed in a carefully prepared environment, called “the children’s house”, in which they will feel at home. During this phase of growth, children are, in what Maria Montessori called the “sensitive periods”.

In our children’s houses, sufficient light has been shed to develop an educational method, drawn in its fundamental lines by the children themselves. Studying these phenomena was an attempt to penetrate the secrets of nature; and, indeed, my effort to understand what was happening before my eyes finally led me to discover the “sensitive periods”.

Maria Montessori, The Steps of Education

The children will find in their atmosphere equipment allowing them to work in the sensory field, that of language, mathematics, practical life with objects of daily life…

Children in the second plane

The children in the second plane have an intellect turned towards the outside world, the universe is their environment. During this period, these children have a great deal of imagination. They will then explore and apprehend what they cannot see in reality.

For example, children can imagine what photosynthesis is; in the classroom environment, they can carry out experiments, they will have at their disposal educational tools such as Montessori posters, books, etc.

The teacher must provide keys that will allow children and through their imagination to explore and acquire an understanding of photosynthesis, to give them keys to understand the universe and humanity.

Similarly, in mathematics, Montessori equipment is an aid for the transition to abstraction, this equipment allows the child to imagine something that they cannot see in reality…

Let us add that the equipment is a teacher always ready, always beautiful, with unlimited patience, constant, and…, always in a good mood!

This equipment must always be stored in the same place so that each child can find it and use it whenever he or she wishes.

The equipment allows the discovery to be reached to the heart of the problem and offers the child error control. When correction is offered, it is always objective.

In this way, the child can repeat a job without getting discouraged or tired.

Adolescents in the third plane

Adolescents in the third plane are more abstract. Mathematics and language equipment, in particular, will still be available, but to a lesser extent. On the other hand, many tools to promote their research and experiments will be proposed to them in order to better understand men and the universe… Their world will also be more outward looking, the deepening of animal and plant biology will be supported by their own cultures (gardens…) but also by animal breeding (rabbits, chickens…).

Maria Montessori also insists on free access to equipments and freedom of movement in the classroom. For her, this freedom of movement is important for knowledge and understanding. Freedom is at the centre of the educator’s work.

In her book The Steps of Education, Maria Montessori speaks not only of an external freedom, but of a construction of internal freedom.

This is built through an environment that encourages movement with a goal: autonomous activity, respect for the rhythm and interests of the child.

Thus, freedom and discipline no longer vary in the opposite direction. More freedom is not less discipline and vice versa. But, on the contrary, more freedom requires more discipline, and from this inner discipline, freedom is born that unfolds in the activity.

The equipment in a Montessori class encourages the child to learn without judgment, only with the desire to explore by himself… This equipment is not an aid to teaching, it is there to help the child to reason and learn, it helps the child to develop his potential…

The social environment: other children and adults, education as an aid to life

The other children

It is very important in a Montessori class to be in the presence of a large group of children of mixed ages. Children learn from other children. A younger child may receive a presentation (small lesson) from an older child. There is no better way for a child to know where his or her learning stands than to teach it to a classmate. Children are stimulated by other children. Similarly, evolving within a large group allows each child, including the most shy, to find a partner to share a job, an experience, a presentation … without being in the competition … the mixed age group invites mutual help.

In a 3/6 year old class, the self-centred child will work alone or with a classmate. In a class of 6/12 years old, the children have a gregarious behaviour, they particularly appreciate working with one or more classmates.

The individuality of each student is brought into contact with reality and, in contact with this reality, reasoning and intuition are activated, which lead beyond knowledge to discovery. The child, in the joy of reasoning and discovery, works free, with enthusiasm, he fears neither interruption nor criticism. He then realizes the construction of his personality.

Thus, in his autonomous activity, the child chooses the work that interests him, he also chooses to work alone or with a friend. He thus follows the course of his own socialization.

The child can take all his time for the activity he has chosen. He can do it again as many times as he wants. The activity is only completed when the child has put the equipment away and put it back on the shelf. In this way, he learns to live in community. As the equipment is only one copy, if two children want to do the same work, they must agree.

Finally, one of the important concepts of Maria Montessori’s pedagogy is based on concentration. Through structured activities, the child accesses concentration and neither peers nor adults should interfere with this concentration. It is therefore imperative not to disturb a child in his work.

The adult

For Maria Montessori, the educator is both “knowing and holy”, aware of the latest discoveries in psychology and pedagogy. We can never repeat it enough, the educator respects the child’s concentration while remaining ready to intervene if necessary.

The prepared atmosphere: the educator must prepare the environment to provide the children with a structured environment.

The child must find in the atmosphere, something organized in relation to his inner organization.

Maria Montessori, The Steps of Education

In a mixed age group, the adult will be able to make presentations, not to an identical age group, but according to the progress of each person’s work, in accordance with their knowledge and interests.

Educators are free from judgments and preconceptions.

Substituting for the child in the performance of his formative actions with the laudable intention of helping him is not what he needs.

Maria Montessori, The Steps of Education

The intervention of the educators must be indirect, the child develops at his own pace. The child must learn through his or her own direct experience. Adults are a link between the environment and children, between the universe and children.

The adult is responsible for the equipment, its maintenance and condition. It is important to remember that the environment must not be a “supermarket” with everything in the world, the adult must offer children keys to develop their understanding of different concepts. For this purpose, small outings are organized by the children supported by the adult in order to go and see outside, in museums …

While the study of childhood may not be of much interest to adults at first glance, it is of great importance when viewed as an engine for the development of humanity as a whole. We must explore these spheres in which man creates himself. And we must learn to guide human development.

Maria Montessori, The Child is the Future of Man

Main components of Montessori pedagogy: Bibliography

Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescent

Maria Montessori, The Stages of Education

Maria Montessori, Educating for a New World

Maria Montessori, The Child is the Future of Man

Classes, Montessori AMI Training, Baldegg, Suisse, 2011