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3.2 Maria Montessori

Learning Objectives

At the end of this section, the participants will:


  • 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 in a classroom setting

Guiding Questions 

Before 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?



Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.

- Maria Montessori


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

Montessori's Philosophy

Peace is at 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 is 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.  The two key elements of her philosophy we will explore in the following sections are prepared environments and planes of development. 


Prepared Environments

Prepared environments are designed to give children freedom within limits, which supports the essential Montessori concepts of child-led and child-centered learning. Prepared environments should offer a wide range of choices and be aesthetically pleasing. Once the environment is prepared, students are given the freedom to learn what is interesting to them and to create their own understandings. This occurs through experimenting as well as learning from the actions of peers and teachers.


The process of individual and group exploration also teaches the students about imagination, which is key to Montessori's philosophy of 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 will need this self-discipline in order to be successful and manage their own life, goals, plans, and relationships. According to Montessori, this process of individual and group exploration allows youth to learn from their own experiences, from their peers, and from their teachers. 

Planes of Development

Montessori believed in four planes of development that describe 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.  When work is at the right level for children and is fulfilling, children will be peaceful and content, and will develop their intellectual, social, and spiritual potential. 


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 through 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 that awakening. 

Montessori and Positive Peace 

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

Montessori in Action

Montessori schools can be found around the world, and provide living examples of her vision of peace education in action.  In Montessori schools, children typically begin the day with three hours of uninterrupted, self-directed work.  Students engage in activities that are based on classification, sequencing, and exploration.  The role of the teacher is not as a source of knowledge, but rather as a structural guide. Students are also involved in the design of field trips, which are an important part of the Montessori curriculum.


Another practical technique used in Montessori classrooms is the Peace Rose method of conflict resolution, which encourages children to solve conflicts independently and nonviolently. For this technique, teachers prepare a “Peace Rose,” which serves as a communication tool for the children who are in conflict. The teacher also designates a special place in the classroom for this object. The Peace Rose could be a flower in a vase, as it is in traditional Montessori classrooms, or it could be a similar object that is culturally relevant (for example, teachers could also use a rock, stick, or any other object. It is particularly helpful to use an object that symbolizes peace in your culture). When children are having a conflict, they are encouraged to get the Peace Rose and bring it to the other child to initiate a dialogue about resolving the conflict peacefully.


For example, imagine that one student, Mari, is kicking the back of the chair of another student, Ali. Ali would go get the Peace Rose, bring it to Mari, and say “I don’t like it when you kick the back of my chair.” Then, Ali would pass the Peace Rose to Mari. Mari would reply, “How can I make you feel better?” and pass the Rose back to Ali. Ali would reply, “You can tell me you’re sorry and stop kicking my chair.”  Mari would then reply, “I’m sorry. I won’t kick your chair anymore.” Then, they would place their hands together on the Rose and say “We declare peace.”


This method is effective for promoting conflict resolution in the classroom. In order for this technique to be effective, there are certain guidelines that should be established for using the Peace Rose. For example, children should know that the Peace Rose should only be used for resolving conflicts in the classroom and should not be treated as a toy. Also, the child who initiates the discussion should be encouraged to use “I-statements,” phrases that begin with “I don’t like it when you …” or “I feel angry when you …”. The child who is given the Rose should respond “How can I make you feel better?” so that he or she can take an action that will improve the situation. The students also need to know that abusive or unkind language is not allowed when using the Peace Rose. 


Maria Montessori made important contributions to the field of peace education by promoting learner-centered pedagogy, diversity, and global citizenship. Montessori's methods of peace education are promoted worldwide at the schools bearing her name.

Questions for Comprehension and Reflection 


  1. What are the key elements of Montessori's educational philosophy?
  2. How did Montessori contribute to the field of peace education? 
  3. How does Montessori's philosophy compare with Dewey's philosophy? How are they similar? How are they different?
  4. 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? 
  5. 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 D. T. Hansen, (Ed.),  Ethical Visions of Education: Philosophies in Practice. New York: Teachers College Press, p. 111-125.


Dubinsky, B. (2007). The Montessori Great Lesson Page. Retrived from http://www.missbarbara.net/greatlessons.html


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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