"The sensory education which prepares for the accurate perception of all the differential details in the qualities of things, is therefore the foundation of the observation of things… it helps us to collect from the external world the material for the imagination." –Maria Montessori
image via heidialdin
image via heidialdin

The Woman & The Method: A Short Quip About Montessori

Maria Montessori was born in 1870. Crossing many controversial gender barriers in place at the time, she was the first female physician in her native home of Italy. Montessori began her renowned style of education in 1907 when she began working with "unteachable" children in mental institutions. After finding that these children could learn through perceptual systems, many of them assimilated into regular schools (Gitter, 1973; Kramer, 1988). Assuming she could become more successful, she began applying the same sensory methods on non-troubled children, and to great success. Thus, the Montessori Method of education was born.

Maria Montessori was an educational reformer. Her social reconstructionist teaching paradigm has evolved into the modern-day Montessori method. Research shows that, compared to children in traditional schools, Montessori students excel in creative domains (Dreyer and Rigler, 1969; Miller and Dyer, 1975). Little research has been done on Montessori creativity in recent years, and most of the research that exists was done in the 1960s and 1970s. Montessori wrote many books on education in her lifetime, and her son, Mario Montessori, continued his mother's work after her death in 1952.

Maria Montessori
Maria Montessori

Montessori Schools

Montessori’s method exists in both public and private schools today. While many schools are certified under the Montessori name, each has a unique way of interpreting Montessori's methods. A few basic staples of her philosophy is the emphasis on peace education, equality, and creating a global consciousness of culture (Montessori, 1972). Teacher intervention is minimal in the Montessori environment, instead allowing students to explore and discover material on their own. This Constructivist environment cultivates trust, respect, and self-efficiency in students. To summarize all of Montessori’s philosophies, the primary goal of a Montessori education is to give children the gift of a life long love of learning (Lillard, 1996).

The Montessori Environment

The Montessori environment promotes the use of nature in activities. Seeing a Montessori classroom for the first time is eye-opening because it is a unique environment. Montessori believed that by keeping fresh flowers on each of the tables, students would be immersed in natural beauty, cultivating a sense of aesthetics (Turner, 1982).

Montessori environments are created for its students. Montessori believed in a flexible environment, which meant no desks attached to floors. Each room has appropriate furniture for the children; desks and chairs are small enough for little ones, and material-holding shelves compose inviting displays for curious minds. Class materials are openly available for students to work with.

Each Montessori material was developed for a specific purpose, and Montessori was adamant about not allowing students diverge from the object’s intent (Montessori, 2010). However, recent re-interpretations of the Montessori method welcome divergent thinking using Montessori materials. Montessori believed that as a child grows, self exploration and discovery are two of the most important topics to develop self-awareness. This has become a reason why contemporary Montessori teachers allow students to use traditional materials in innovative ways.

Examples of The Montessori Environment

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Note the accessibility of materials
Note the accessibility of materials

Montessori students often work on the floor
Montessori students often work on the floor

Young Montessori students doing math exercises
Young Montessori students doing math exercises

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A Pre-K Montessori student tending to flowers in his classroom
A Pre-K Montessori student tending to flowers in his classroom

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Montessori’s Views on Creativity and Art

Of the creativity theorists that we discussed this semester, I believe that Montessori shares views similar to Aristotle’s. Though she did not believe that inspirition came from the ‘divine’, she believed that beauty could be found in nature and that nature itself should be and is the most infinite source of creative inspiration (Turner, 1982). It is important to keep in mind that Montessori developed her educational philosophies around the turn of the 20th century. At this time, modern art was just barely gaining momentum, and most of it was considered offensive and appalling. As a result, Montessori's [and Aristotle's, for that matter] views on art seem quite conservative compared with today's standards.

A Montessori student tracing a geometric inset
A Montessori student tracing a geometric inset

The links between creativity and problem solving have been a topic of much interest over the past few decades (Ruscio and Amabile, 1999). The Montessori method helps students develop strong problem solving skills. A common criticism of the Montessori method is that it does not allow for enough flexibility for students to explore. Though the Montessori environment may seem to suppress creative impulse, it has been shown to cultivate divergent thinking and problem solving in a way that transfers to the creative domain (Lillard, 2005).

Creatively speaking, there is no set curriculum for art in the Montessori method[1]. Most of the artistic activities are done through arts integration; combining art with subjects of study in order to learn the material. The only materials provided for artistic use are geometric insets, which children are allowed to trace and color in. These were some of the first materials that were developed in her curriculum. The closest thing we have to an official Montessori arts curriculum was developed by Lena Gitter. Gitter (1973) was a student under Montessori, who later trained with Montessori. She developed guidelines for teaching art to mentally challenged students, publishing her work in The Montessori Approach to Art Education.

Montessori did not believe in fantasy, primarily from her observations of children’s disinterest in fairy tales (Lillard, 2005). Montessori was a devout Catholic, and she believed that deviation from reality was a sin. She believed that children's abstract drawings to be primitive and horrendous. To counter this, Montessori recommended that children be inspired to draw from nature, but only when they are inspired (Montessori, 1978). She believed that children would only create artwork when they needed to, until something would distract them and they would abandon it. Again, this stems from her own observations of young children in her programs.

An example of arts integration: A Montessori student learning about the continents through art!
An example of arts integration: A Montessori student learning about the continents through art!

Montessori was not a fan of students drawing from their imagination.She also wrote, “The so called ‘free drawing’ has no place in my system. We do not give lessons in drawing and modeling, and yet many of our children know how to draw flowers, birds, landscapes, and even imaginary scenes in an admirable way” (Montessori, 1978, p. 280).

As an advocate for intrinsic motivation, Montessori did not believe in displaying children's artwork. She did, however, recommend that famous art works hang at eye level in the classroom, because displaying them above this height creates a feeling of detachment and superiority (Turner, 1982).


To summarize, Montessori’s methods indirectly develop creativity. Her personal belief was that creativity was a reflection of the natural world. Whereas creativity is usually associated with art making, Montessori’s methods prove that this is not always the case. Problem solving plays a vital role in developing creative solutions, something that the Montessori method cultivates. Arts integration plays a key role in learning in the Montessori method. Montessori did not like students drawing abstractly or from their imagination, and she highly valued artistic mimicry of nature.

External Links

Association Montessori Internationale
The American Montessori Society
The International Montessori Index
The Montessori Foundation


Britton, L. (1992). Montessori play and learn. Vermillion.

Dreyer, A., & Rigler, D. (1969). Cognitive performance in Montessori and nursery school children. Journal of Educational Research, 62(9), 411-416.

Gitter, L. (1973). The Montessori approach to art education. B. Straub Publishing Company.

Kramer, R. (1988). Maria Montessori: a biography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lillard, A. (2005). Montessori: The science behind the genius. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lillard, P. (1996). Montessori today: A comprehensive approach to education from birth to adulthood. New York: Schocken Books.

Miller, L., & Dyer, J. (1975). Four preschool programs: Their dimensions and effects. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 40, 5-6.

Montessori, M. (1912). The Montessori method: Scientific pedagogy as applied to child education in “the children’s houses”. New York: Frederick A Stokes Company.

Montessori, M. (1972). Education and peace. Chicago: Regnery.

Montesori, M. (1978). The discovery of the child. Ballantine Books.

Montessori, M. (2010). The advanced Montessori method- The Montessori elementary material. Snowball Publishing.

Ruscio, A., & Amabile, T. (1999). Effects of instructional style on problem-solving creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 12(4), 251-268.

Turner, J. (1982). Art and Montessori. Constructive triangle, 9(2), 4-41.

[1] Many have made their own independent curriculum. See Britton, 1992 for more.