Montessori Basics 4: A Montessori Glossary

The next post in this series is a quick overview of some commonly used terms in Montessori education. If you’re new to Montessori, it can be a little overwhelming at first (almost like learning a new language!) so it’s good to get an idea of what these terms mean.

Absorbent Mind: Montessori believed that children from ages 0-6 had an absorbent mind; that is, they were literally absorbing the sights, sounds, words, and impressions that were all around them. During this time period, they learn without any effort or exertion.

casa dei bambini: This Italian term is literally translated as “children’s house”. It was the name of the first school that Montessori started, back in 1907. The term has come to represent the 3-6 classroom, indicating a beautifully prepared environment containing all the materials necessary for a child’s development.

Control of Error: In order to allow for work to be completed independently, most Montessori materials (especially those in Practical Life) contain a built-in control to let the child know whether or not the work is being done correctly. For example, a sorting work will have the same number of items in each category; if the items are sorted incorrectly, the number of items in each category will be uneven.

Director/Directress: Montessori preferred to use these terms rather than “teacher”. The idea is that the Montessori directress is a guide; someone who gives children the tools they need to teach themselves, rather than actually teaching. These terms are still used today, although you will often hear “teacher” used as well, for clarity when talking to non-Montessorians.

Exercises of Practical Life: These exercises have been carefully developed to guide the child through learning the tasks of daily life. They include common household tasks like sweeping and scrubbing, as well as the development of fine motor skills through pouring and spooning. They are the basis of the 3-6 classroom, and help the child develop the important skills of concentration, attention to order, sequencing, and language.

Human Tendencies: Montessori believed that all people share some basic tendencies. Among these are exploration, work, communication, repetition, mastery, and perfection. They are seen across all cultures and countries. They are the driving force behind the development of culture and civilization.

Planes of Development:
The four planes (or phases) of development are stages that children move through from complete dependence to independence. The first plane, infancy, includes 0-6 years of age. During this time, the child’s subconscious mind is absorbing everything around him. The next phase, childhood, occurs between ages 6-12. This time is one of conscious learning, as a child begins to explore the world.

Adolescence, from 12-18, encompasses the next plane. During this time, there is some upheaval as the child develops rapidly. This is in contrast with childhood, which is characterized by steady and reasoned activities. After this stage, the young adult enters maturity from 18-24 and can begin to find out how they fit into the world around them.

Prepared Environment:
Maria Montessori observed that children’s learning could be facilitated by an environment that was thoughtfully prepared, rather than randomly assembled. Facets of the prepared environment include work that is organized on shelves by curricular area, in order of difficulty. The work must also be complete, attractive, and accessible to the children.

Purposeful Movement:
In Montessori, the child is given work to do that involves physical movement. The movement is not superfluous to the work; it is part of the work. In this way the motor skills are developed and strengthened.

Sensitive Period: According to Montessori, children pass through stages where they are more readily able to absorb information than at other times. Children have sensitive periods for order, language, refinement of the senses and large motor skills, small objects, and social behavior. All of these periods take place during the 0-6 year plane of development.