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Maria Montessori

Page history last edited by Stephanie Knox 10 years, 1 month ago

Maria Montessori Learning Objectives

In this section, participants should be able to meet the following objectives:

  • Understand the main principles of Maria Montessori's educational philosophy
  • Describe Montessori's contribution to the field of peace education
  • Understand how to apply Montessori's ideas to a classroom setting


Guiding Questions 

As you read this section, consider the following questions: 

  • What does it mean to be a global citizen?
  • What are the elements of a peaceful learning environment? 
  • How do the stages of human development affect the way peace education should be taught?




Maria Montessori (1870-1952) spent her youth and young adulthood in Italy.  She received training to be a physician, which was a revolutionary act for a woman at that time.  Her work as a physician led her into the study of education and teaching.  Her work for peace education was passionately influenced by the rise of fascism that she saw throughout Europe during the 1920s and 1930s.  While her work today is most commonly seen in education of children, her pedagogy can be applied to those of all ages.


Montessori's Philosophy

Peace is the center of Montessori's philosophy.  She believed that tolerance was not enough for the world to be peaceful.  Rather, respect for everything and everyone was needed.  For this reason she promoted a global outlook and diversity in education.  She believed that a global and diverse outlook, when combined with personal responsibility, would lead to peace.  For this reason she is considered the founder of "Global Citizenship." She promoted the respect of both the physical environment and human relationships.  In her words, '"Our principal concern must be to educate humanity--the human beings of all nations--in order to guide it toward seeking common goals" (Cossentino & Witcomb, 2007, p. 115).  She viewed children as the hope and promise for mankind and therefore thought it was essential to invest in them to promote peace in the world. 


Montessori promoted a specific way of investing in children to promote peace.  This philosophy had three main elements: prepared environments, planes of development and cosmic education. 


Prepared Environments

Prepared environments were designed to give children freedom within limits.  This supports the essential Montessori concepts of child-led and child-centered learning.  Once the environment was prepared, students were able to learn what was interesting to them.  This learning occurred through experimenting as well as learning from the actions of peers and teachers.  Environments provided a wide range of choice and were aesthetically pleasing to promote respect.  The entire community cared for the environment.  Children were given the freedom to follow their own curiosities and create their own understandings.  The process of individual and group exploration also taught the students about imagination, which was key to Montessori's philosophy and self-discipline.  Montessori believed that students needed to be self-disciplined, rather than receiving discipline from the outside, since at some point they will be on their own and need this self-discipline.  This process of individual and group exploration allowed youth to learn from themselves, their peers and their teachers. 


Planes of Development

Montessori believed in four planes of development which represent a holistic representation of the child at various developmental periods. The four planes are:

1. the Age of Prudence (0-6 years old) - construction of the physical, concrete plane

2. the Age of Temperance (6-12 years old) - construction of the intelligence plane

3. the Age of Justice (12-18 years old) - construction of the social/moral plane

4. the Age of Fortitude (18-24 years old) - construction of the spiritual plane


Montessori believed that children have spiritual impulses that, when properly nurtured, bring about a powerful inner guide for peace and compassion in the future.  When work is at the right level for children and is fulfilling, children will be peaceful, content and developing their intellectual, social and spiritual potential.  Absorbency marks the first developmental plane (ages 0-6).  Next is deliberateness, which leads to a task-orientation and a focus on completion.  This is when abstract and moral reasoning begin. 


Each 6-year developmental plane is divided into 3-year cycles.  Within each cycle, especially at younger ages, Montessori considered that children pass through a sensitive period, which must be cultivated by the educator via individual and group activities, to support self and group learning.  These periods respond to various intellectual, social and moral awakenings and the educators must cultivate the awakening. 


Cosmic Education

Cosmic education was designed for children ages 6-12, and its goal was to help each child discover his or her cosmic task.  This meant what was one's role in the larger, collective world.  This aspect has many spiritual influences and focuses on the harmony of the universe.  Children explored the wonders of the universe as whole structures and then in more manageable, smaller parts.  It was essential for Montessori to first look at the big picture, or what are called the Great Lessons.  From thinking through these great lessons students also learned critical thinking skills, which Montessori considered key to seeing the problems in the current system and changing it to promote peace.  


Montessori's Positive Peace 

The purpose of all of Montessori's peace education was to not simply stop war and violence (what is known as negative peace) but rather to promote a positive peace.  She defines positive peace as having values that are important to humanity such as justice and harmony.  She states that "'Inherent in the very meaning of the word peace is the positive notion of constructive social reform” (Duckworth, 2008).  Therefore, diversity is a key aspect of this positive peace since she promotoes a world in which these values are defended and promoted for people, regardless of individual differences.  


How Is It Implemented

Montessori schools have cropped up around the world and therefore allow us to see her vision of Peace Education in action.  In Montessori schools children typically begin the day with 3 hours of uninterrupted, self-directed work.  Students engage in activities that are based in classification, sequencing and exploration.  The teacher is not a source of knowledge, but rather a structural guide.  The Great Lessons are an example of curriculum.  Teachers tell these stories to their students.  The stories are support for imagination and after hearing the stories student engage in self-designed explorations that relate to the theme of the story.  Students also engage in Field Trips, which are student designed and implemented.  Finally, the Peace Rose is an important part of any Montessori classroom.  All classrooms have a space set up for conflict resolution.  The rose is symbolic of wanting to make peace.  When children are involved in a conflict they are expected to take the initiative to invite (using the rose or not) the other members of the conflict to discuss their problems.  At the end children "declare peace."



Maria Montessori made important contributions to the field of peace education through her promotion of learner-centered pedagogy and her promotion of diversity and global citizenship. Montessori's methods of peace education are promoted worldwide at the schools bearing her name. Maria Montessori was a pioneer in the peace education movement, especially for the education of children.


Questions for Comprehension and Reflection: 

  • What are the key elements of Montessori's educational philosophy?
  • How did Montessori contribute to the field of peace education? 
  • How does Montessori's philosophy compare with Dewey's philosophy? How are they similar? How are they different?
  • How can you apply Montessori's methods in your classroom? Do you agree with her methods? Which methods might work, and which might not? Why? 
  • Task: If you live in an area with a Montessori school, arrange to visit the school to talk with the teachers, and possibly observe a class for a day to see Montessori practice in action. 



Cossentino, J., & Whitcomb, J. (2007). "Peace as a Premise for Learning: Maria Montessori's Educational Philosophy." In David T. Hansen, ed.,  Ethical Visions of

     Education: Philosophies in Practice. New York: Teachers College Press, p. 111-125.


Duckworth, C. (2010). "Maria Montessori's Contribution to Peace Education." Teachers Center. Columbia University, 2008. 

     Retrieved from http://www.tc.edu/centers/epe/PDF%20articles/Duckworth_ch4_22feb08.pdf 

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